In the dimly lit ornately adorned gusty hallways of gothic-esque “out there” cinema, once crazy-cool auteur Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Batman, Mars Attacks! etc) has not so much jumped the shark as splattered it in ghoulish make-up and rocket launched himself into a thick cloud of unintentional parody from whence he may never emerge.

The veteran weird-n-proud director’s 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes was an idiotically misguided mind-number, but vampiric fish out of water comedy Dark Shadows — which marks Burton’s eighth collaboration with star Johnny Depp — is so flatly executed the jokes seem to have been written, fittingly enough, by the dead. In terms of scatterbrained monkey business the film gives Apes a serious run for its money.

Remaking a daily daytime soap that ran on American tele from 1966 to 1971, Johnny Depp is the highlight as resurfaced vampire Barnabus, last “alive” in the 1700s. He is awoken from his slumber two centuries hence to settle into his ancestral home in the 1970s, populated by distant relatives. They are played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Moretz and young Aussies Bella Heathcote and Gulliver McGrath. Given this is a Burton movie, a role for Helena Bonham Carter has been shoehorned in with the grace of an elephant doing the cha cha.

In a prime example of the film’s infertile comedic rhythm, Barnabus discovers the magic of television and wonders why and how Karen Carpenter is singing from it. “Reveal yourself, tiny sorceress!” he exclaims, a line that would read well on paper but the moment flops, and if the core fish out of water shtick doesn’t amuse here it’s slim pickings for the rest of the storage coffin. Burton never finds a good tempo and the largely structure-less story seems hopelessly slapdash, the scrambled schlocky finale a display of filthy drunk direction.

As an underwhelming one trick pony, tolerant viewers might leave fulfilled but Dark Shadows is minor, minor, minor Burton — dodgy and daggy, messy and mangled, waiting to be discovered decades later in the context of “what on earth was that?”

Dark Shadows’ Australian theatrical release date: May 10, 2012. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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