'Dark Shadows' old-school fun

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:11 AM ET

Things a handful of nerdy film critics did after seeing Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's gothic vampire/'70s cheese mash-up Dark Shadows:

1. Debated (and checked on our smart phones) whether all the songs on the soundtrack were of a piece with the 1972 setting. They pretty much all were, including Top Of The World by The Carpenters ('72), Go All The Way by The Raspberries ('72) and Eighteen by Alice Cooper ('71). The theme from A Summer Place ('59) was the only obvious anomaly.

2.  Recalled lines of florid, Grand Guignol dialogue uttered by Depp, an 18th Century blood-sucking gentleman in a happy-face-muraled Chevy Van world. My favourite, an epithet directed at the witch Angelique (Eva Green): "Get thee to Hell, where Asmodeus himself may suckle upon your diseased teat!"

They just don't write insults like that anymore.

As professional courtesy, we mostly stepped around what we actually thought of the movie. This is especially wise when dealing with deliberate camp, which is very subjective.

Why Tim Burton and Johnny Depp choose the projects they do is unpredictable, from Edward Scissorhands onward. The overwrought gothic afternoon soap opera Dark Shadows, about a venerable New England family whose ranks included vampires, werewolves and witches, was an odd '60s pop cult that attracted in equal parts kids, adults and college students who'd get high and laugh.

Replicating it today would be as tough as rebooting Dynasty and trying to get the gay community to embrace it iconically the way they did in the '80s.

What Burton and Depp did (the why is unclear) was to put the premise and much of the dialogue in the hands of genre mash-up specialist Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer).

The result is more old-school fish-out-of-water than blazingly original. But it retains that soap opera acting style that has always been fun to watch.

And but for being overlong, Dark Shadows is fun if you go with it.

Like Barnabas himself, Dark Shadows kind of wanders aimlessly through its haze of patchouli and lava lamps, tossing out bon mots (pretty funny ones for the most part) and '70s sight gags, all for the mortification of a gentleman from the Enlightenment age.

Also there's a concert sequence by Alice Cooper (playing a party at the Collins mansion). "Ugliest woman I have ever seen," Barnabas sniffs.

The plot has spurned witch Angelique diabolically murdering Barnabas's fiancée Josette (Bella Heathcote), casting a spell that renders Barnabas vampiric and manipulating the townspeople to bury him alive (or undead).

Two centuries later, he's unearthed by construction workers to find his family reduced to a dysfunctional few, including an imperious matriarch (Michelle Pfeiffer), her no-good brother (Jonny Lee Miller), his ghost-conscious son (Gully McGrath) and her surly hippie daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz). Angelique has usurped the Collinses as the leader of Collinsport, and, well, Hell must break loose.

But it's a pastel Hell, with pet rocks and shag carpeting. If that all sounds funny to you, get thee to a theatre.


Photos