Movie Review: Dark Shadows
Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows. Picture: Peter Mountain/Warner Bros.

After the irksomely overrated Alice in Wonderland another Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration had all the appeal of wearing eyeliner, face powder and black fingernails to a Dockers game.

Burton is one of the great visionaries of modern cinema - Edward Scissorhands, his two Batmans and Ed Wood are classics - but his recent work with Depp has become unbearably self-conscious and mannered.

So it was with some relief that Dark Shadows reintroduced me to the Burton I like best, the junk-culture aficionado who gave us a biopic of the man regarded as the worst director in history and, in Mars Attacks!, a madcap movie inspired by a series of 1960s trading cards.

The equally offbeat Dark Shadows is based on an almost-forgotten television series (1966-1971) that began as a Rebecca-inspired soap opera set in a gloomy, faded mansion in the imaginary New England town of Collinsport.

The show initially failed to catch on so producer Dan Curtis, with nothing to lose, threw in a ghost, giving the fading series a bump in ratings.

Eventually Curtis unleashed a vampire named Barnabas Collins who takes up residence in the mansion with his ancestors and passes himself off as a distant relative from England.

Burton, who as an eight-year-old obsessed over what religious crackpots of the time dubbed "Satan's favourite TV show", astutely acknowledges the show's trashy origins by setting his version of Dark Shadows in the early 1970s.

So when Johnny Depp's Barnabas is accidentally dug up by construction workers, whom he immediately kills to slake a centuries-old thirst, his dandy-ish 18th century attire and archaic manners and speech fit right into the counter-culture of the day.

Indeed, the wonderful joke of Dark Shadows is that Barnabas seems not like a vampire at all but a visiting Carnaby Street hipster, no weirder than Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean co-star Keith Richards in his heyday (it would have been a hoot to have a cameo from the skeletal Stone, rock'n'roll's version of the living dead).

Barnabas eventually makes his way to the Collins' mansion and strikes up a pact with his canny descendant Elizabeth (a wonderfully vampish Michelle Pfeiffer), offering to elevate the family to its former glory in exchange for sanctuary.

The best sections of Dark Shadows are Barnabas' dealings with the dysfunctional Collins clan, who include Chloe Moretz' typically disdainful, mouthy teenager who gives him tips on how to romance a woman, and a toothy shrink (an almost unrecognisable Helena Bonham Carter) who attempts to cure the vampire by using hypnosis.

And his encounter with the era has all the retro charm of an Austin Powers movie.

Particularly amusing is the look of astonishment on the face of Depp's Barnabas when he first encounters a lava lamp, whose swimming red globules enthral and disturb the pale-faced bloodsucker.

Less convincing and entertaining is the surrounding story, which involves Barnabas taking revenge on the witch-turned-businesswoman and former lover (Eva Green) who put a curse on the Collins family when he dumped her two centuries ago.

What could have been a wicked meld of daytime soap, sorcery and the dark side of American business descends into another special effects-driven supernatural smackdown, with idiotic last-minute revelations and an absurd, half-baked love story involving Depp's Barnabas and the gorgeous but troubled governess (Australian newcomer Bella Heathcote).

Depp is his usual engaging self as the amusingly dim Barnabas. However, the dark eye make-up and white powder slapped on to a sagging face now makes him look kind of creepy and sad, like Sean Penn playing a clapped-out rocker in This Must Be The Place.

Perhaps it is time, Tim and Johnny, to put your much-resurrected Goth character back into the coffin and leave him buried for good. <div class="endnote">

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The West Australian

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