Between The Addams Family, The Munsters, and Dark Shadows, the 1960’s seemed to be a highpoint for lighthearted “horror” based TV shows. While the first two were more sitcom-based, Dark Shadows took the soap opera approach and remained a popular TV show. So when it was announced that Tim Burton was doing a movie adaptation, fans were both intrigued but apprehensive.
Casting his familiar actors Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, and Christopher Lee, the movie received mixed reviews. So as the movie celebrates its 10th anniversary, we wanted to take a look back at Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows and see if it truly was an underrated, misunderstood gem, or if it was a sign of Burton losing his touch.
Striking the Right Tone
While Burton is certainly known for being dark, surreal, and gothic in his approach, his films have often been infused with a semi-self aware sense of humor. As if he’s using the strange to poke fun at the “normal”. And that’s very much what he does with his interpretation of Barnabas Collins.
In a lot of ways, Depp’s rendition of Barnabas is a wink to the audience about how we’ve perceived his Burton roles to that point. He comes off as the strange, gothic outsider, and the other characters react much the way that audiences and critics have to each new movie that Burton and Depp would make.
The result is a movie that has the same bleak, washed out color palette we’re used to seeing from Burton, but blended with a subtle humor and genuinely interesting characters. It was fun to see Bonham Carter playing a more “normal” character to play off of Depp’s Barnabas. And even critics who weren’t fans of other aspects of the movie, praised its sense of humor.
Respecting the Original
For fans of the original series who were hoping for a more direct adaptation, Burton’s film took ideas, characters, and plotlines, but very much made them his own. He took certain over the top elements that worked in soap operas, but turned them comedic. In a way, he adapted similarly to how 2005’s Bewitched took a more meta approach to adapting its source TV series.
Burton’s film feels like it could easily fit in a larger narrative and we could easily see these characters continue on with new storylines. Carolyn’s werewolf reveal serves as a plot twist for the climax, but it could just as easily have spared another storyline to continue for many more episodes.
The whole movie has this odd mashup of old school gothic, and vintage 1970s that blend to create this eerie, dreamlike tone. But in a lot of ways, that was very much the same tone of the original TV show.
End of an Era
There was a time when the trio of Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter, and Johnny Depp was a box office force to be reckoned with. The three of them worked together on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd, and Alice in Wonderland. While Burton and Depp had also worked together on Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Sleepy Hollow prior to that.
Whether they knew it at the time or not, Dark Shadows remains the final collaboration (as of now) of Burton and Depp, as well as their trio with Bonham Carter. Granted, their collaboration had turned into a punchline, but there’s a reason that it continued for so long. Both fans, critics, and the box office seemed to be rewarding the work they were putting out.
Looking back, it gives Dark Shadows a very unintended bittersweet feeling. Burton and Bonham Carter famously split up in 2014, so it’s unlikely we’ll see them working together again. As for Depp, his career derailed with a series of flops in the next few years that included Transcendence, The Lone Ranger, Tusk, and Mortdecai.
Not to mention Depp’s very public and very toxic relationship and divorce with Amber Heard. Something which, at time of writing, is still going on via Depp’s defamation suit against her. For fans and supporters of Depp, it’s sad that his personal life and career are at an all time low. And maybe the solution is reuniting with Tim Burton to deliver a gleefully gothic performance.
Admittedly, Dark Shadows isn’t Burton’s best film, but it’s also not his worst, and doesn’t deserve its 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a film that knows what it wants to do, has fun with its fish out of water story, and remains the final collaboration for an epic team of creators that we hope to see work together again one day!
What did you think of Dark Shadows? What’s your favorite Burton/Depp collaboration? Let us know in the comments!