DIRECTED BY TIM BURTON
Were it not for the fortunate fact that Alison Bechdel is alive and well, Dark Shadows would surely have the Bechdel test creator spinning in her grave. Granted, it’s no surprise that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s umpteenth stab at gothic whimsy doesn’t meet the test’s modest criteria—most Hollywood movies don’t. But the degree to which Dark Shadows trades on problematic female stereotypes—between Eva Green as a scorned, psychotically co-dependent sorceress, and Helena Bonham Carter, who’s happy to fellate her way to eternal youth—does leave an unexpectedly bitter taste.
Feminist faux pas aside, Burton’s fish-out-of-water re-working of the eponymous cult soap remains a mixed bag. Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a prosperous Maine patriarch who finds himself transplanted from the 1700s to the ’70s after he’s turned into a vampire and entombed by his jilted, vengeful servant (Green). Upon finally being exhumed, Barnabas’ bemusement at the era’s “modern” trappings is screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith’s chief source of gags. And, while Depp’s florid line deliveries do earn laughs, Dark Shadows‘ comic returns steadily diminish as the film plucks the same nostalgic, wah-wah-filtered note.
When not puzzling at Scooby-Doo on a wood-panneled TV set, or pondering the implications of women’s lib (An unwed 15-year-old? Heaven forfend!), Barnabas endeavours to restore his family’s fortune, which has declined significantly during his centuries spent six feet under. He also harbours romantic designs on the family’s governess (Bella Heathcote)—the apparent reincarnation of his former beloved.
Both pursuits bring him into conflict with ageless and still-bitter Green, who has become the Collins clan’s chief business rival. She’s as game as Depp to dial up the camp, and their lusty tête-à-têtes do produce a moderate spark. But even their fiery ultimate showdown is undercut by an underdeveloped supporting cast, and—ironically for a vampire flick—a conspicuous lack of dramatic stakes.