Middle Row, Centre: Remake of a ’60s Soap

As the summer blockbuster season begins to unroll itself before us, the latest among the current batch of remakes is Dark Shadows.

It first saw light of day as a gothic daytime soap opera back in the ’60s on ABC-TV, and its current incarnation is a mixed bag indeed.

Johnny Depp appears as Barnabas Collins, the show’s 200-year-old vampire star. The film version seems to be unable to make up its mind whether it’s a comedy or a horror story, and it suffers as a result.

The show’s original Barnabas, Canadian actor Jonathan Frid, died last month, but has a posthumous cameo role in the film as a guest at the decrepit mansion of the once-powerful Collins family.

The film’s plot centres on the return of Barnabas to his ancestral home, 200 years after a ravishing 18th-century witch cursed him and doomed him to living in confinement in an iron coffin.

The witch, Angelique Bouchard, is played by French-born actress Eva Green, whose most notable previous role was as Vesper Lynd, double agent and James Bond girlfriend in the 2006 film Casino Royale.

When Barnabas reappears in 1972, after being accidentally dug up by a construction crew, Angelique is an attractive career woman, the proprietor of a prosperous fish-canning plant in the seaside town of Collinsport.

As such, she controls the industry that was once dominated by Barnabas and his family, and he means to restore the Collins dynasty to its former glory.

Johnny Depp and Eva Green in Dark Shadows PHOTO: courtesy of moviespad.com

He’s aided in his efforts by Dr. Julia Hoffman, a psychiatrist played by Helena Bonham Carter, who’s retained by the family. She sets up a transfusion system, to replace the tainted vampire blood of Barnabas with human blood, so that he will be freed of his accursed supernatural nature.

This is the eighth time Johnny Depp and Dark Shadows director Tim Burton have collaborated on a film, their most memorable pairing being perhaps Edward Scissorhands.

Depp’s portrayal of Barnabas, the reluctant vampire, is first-rate, as is that of his one-time lover turned adversary, Green, whose casting as the eternal vamp gives spark to an otherwise fairly lacklustre and overly-convoluted plot.

A subplot involving a young governess to the dysfunctional Collins family goes mostly nowhere. She turns out to be the reincarnated true love of Barnabas, who was driven to suicide by the archrival for his affections, Angelique.

Part of the difficulty with Dark Shadows is its demographic positioning. Young fans of the vampire sagas popularized by the Twilight series weren’t even around when the original TV series was in its heyday.

They probably won’t even recognize heavy metal merchant Alice Cooper, who makes a cameo appearance as the star attraction at the fancy ball Barnabas throws in his attempt to revive the former glory of the Collinswoodmansion.

(The time-displaced Barnabas calls him “the ugliest woman I’ve ever seen”.)

There are no characters here for Twilighters to identify with, and the folks who do remember the originals have mostly long since stopped going to movies. Opening in the shadow of The Avengers has probably not helped its cause much either.

Dark Shadows plays at 7:00 and 9:30 pm at the Qwanlin Cinema, and is rated PG.

Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.

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