With the recent popularity of “True Blood” and “The Vampire Diaries,” many people tend to forget about “Dark Shadows,” the campy 1960s series that was the pioneer in terms of putting vampires on television.
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp remember, however, and their affection for the source material is evident throughout their big-screen adaptation of Dark Shadows, which has moments both funny and scary before falling apart at the end.
It is the eighth collaboration between filmmaker and star, who might not introduce many new fans to the show but have rendered a tongue-in-cheek version that works fairly well on its own.
Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, an 18th century aristocrat who was cursed by a witch (Eva Green) to become a bloodsucker and buried in a coffin. He is exhumed two centuries later, when he finds his family’s seaside Maine mansion dilapidated and his descendants in financial ruin.
While adjusting to life in the 1970s, Barnabas becomes determined to regain his family fortune, which includes a lucrative fishing business. Family dysfunction and secrets don’t help matters. His main obstacle, however, is the return of the same woman whose curse he fought so long to break.
The script by newcomer Seth Grahame-Smith is unfocused, but its approach smartly does not descend into outright gothic camp. However, it stumbles badly in the third act, when it becomes a cross between a heartfelt romance and a destructive revenge fantasy.
Burton is given plenty of visual toys to play with, especially inside the estate filled with dark hallways, creaky doors, secret passages and eccentric inhabitants. He keeps the pace lively and the atmosphere ominous, even if the genuine frights are mild and sporadic.
The 1970s period re-creation, complete with an eclectic soundtrack, also is a highlight. Yet it’s a shame that some of the supporting players such as Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter and Jackie Earle Haley aren’t given more to do.
Dark Shadows is first and foremost a comedy, and Depp generates some decent fish-out-of-water laughs with his bewildered facial expressions and deadpan one-liners. While it might feel like he and Burton are recycling old shtick, it still has some potency given the right framework.
Despite its cop-out ending, this amusing trifle has some modest rewards for those willing to accept it simply as a breezy diversion.
Rated PG-13, 113 minutes.