IT'S NOT SO MUCH that director Tim Burton is a fuck-up—he most certainly is. The question usually lies in how he's going to fuck up. His days as the enfant terrible of such juicy hits as Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands are long past, and for the last 20 years he's become increasingly known as the "Woody Allen of horror quirk"—a once-great auteur unable to relight his former spark.
So it comes as no surprise that Dark Shadows is another Burton disaster—though in this case, he can share the blame. Basing a movie on an oddball '60s horror/gothic soap opera seems like an almost impossible uphill climb: The style of the original Dark Shadows was slow, creepy, and hilariously overwrought—and would've been cancelled years sooner had it not been for the addition of the show's best character, vampire Barnabas Collins (played by the recently deceased Jonathan Frid). And it's with this character that Burton's Dark Shadows hits the mark.
Played to comic perfection by Johnny Depp, the vampiric Barnabas Collins rises from his grave after 200 years to reclaim the glory of his family name. Set in roughly the same time as the TV show (1972), much of the humor is mined from Barnabas' attempts to understand such modern conveniences as muscle cars, lava lamps, and the Carpenters. But the film is also a revenge tragedy where Barnabas battles the witch who cursed him 200 years prior, a familial drama where Barnabas mends the fraying relationship of his descendents, and a romance in which he pursues the ghostly incarnation of his long-lost love.
Guys. There's too much going on here.
While Burton's cinematography and style is spot-on as usual, and the screenplay occasionally captures the creepy, drawn-out style of the original Dark Shadows... who cares? Barely anyone remembers the show, and YouTube clips prove how horribly dated it is. And if it weren't for Depp's fantastic line readings, the screenplay would immediately and correctly be recognized as a limping mess—which, like a vampire, should've never seen the light of day.