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Dark Shadows (AF)


Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote, Gully McGrath, Ray Shirley, Christopher Lee, Alice Cooper

Director: Tim Burton

Vampires are certainly resilient. Here Depp rises from the usually permanent graveyard of ‘vintage’ television to play the 1960s American small-screen bloodsucker Barnabas Collins created by director Dan Curtis.

Depp doesn’t disappoint. Reunited with director Burton, for whom he has variously been the world’s worst filmmaker Ed Wood, finger-slicing Edward Scissorhands, murderous singing hairdresser Sweeney Todd and Carroll’s Mad Hatter, Depp dominates the Gothic (with a capital ‘G’) proceedings as the Liverpool-born bloodsucker who returns to the outside world in 1972 after being transformed into a vampire by witch Green and then locked in a metal casket for 200 years. Happy to be back among the blood-filled living (in much the same way as an alcoholic enjoys an off-licence), Depp rejoins his now dysfunctional family in their Gothic pile and sets out to restore their name to its former glory…

Dark Shadows is as much a comic caper as a horrorflick. Hence the ‘12A’ certificate. Humour is prevalent among the outbursts of bloodletting, an eerie female spectre with a spider emerging from her mouth and a violent flame-ridden climax redolent of Roger Corman.

Depp is central to the film’s overall light-heartedness. Even at his jugular-biting worst (“I am terribly sorry. You can’t imagine how thirsty I am” he tells a victim in way of an apology), white-faced and with an overdone English accent that is sometime as much ‘camp-ire’ as vampire, Depp (and Burton’s) sense of fun infuses the film. Notable is a riotous sex scene that traverses the floor, the walls and the ceiling and leaves the room comprehensively trashed. It has little to do with overt horror and everything to do with Burton and Depp’s established offbeat senses of humour

Pfeiffer is effective as the chatelaine of the gothic Collins mansion and there are useful contributions from Bonham Carter as a red-wigged shrink with hopes of vampiric immortality, Heathcote, Green, Moretz as a precocious 15-year-old with a surprising secret and Haley as an alcoholic servant. The special effects are effective, the production design excellent.

That said, Dark Shadows basically belongs to Burton and Depp, whose combined talents and no-holds-barred approach to the material make for good nasty fun with a wicked sense of comic absurdity (Alice Cooper turns up as himself to entertain at a 'happening' in the Collins mansion, only to be called "the ugliest woman I've ever seen" by Depp), if not quite a genre classic.

Alan Frank

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Warner Bros.. Colour.
113 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 09 May 2012