Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows” makes for a gorgeous corpse, lovingly attended, fabulously outfitted and all but drained of blood.
The director’s eighth collaboration with Johnny Depp celebrates the duo’s lifelong love for the shabby supernatural ’60s soap opera. Their affection, contagious as it is, doesn’t make up for an anemic story.
The unintended camp of the original, with performances as shaky as Styrofoam tombstones, is here replaced with broad humor and visual gags. A vampire cleans his fangs, the bathroom mirror reflecting only a floating toothbrush and a smear of paste.
Depp, in all his fine-boned eccentricity, plays Barnabas Collins, the melancholy immortal whose arrival on the old series spurred one of the unlikeliest pop culture sensations of the era.
The vampire, along with a haunted mansion full of secondary characters, is resurrected by Burton and his grade-A cast.
Among others: Eva Green plays the vengeful witch Angelique, Michelle Pfeiffer is Collins family matriarch Elizabeth, and Burton stalwart Helena Bonham Carter, in flame-red coif, is Dr. Julia Hoffman, a boozing shrink who takes more than a professional interest in the handsome bloodsucker.
After a brief (and expectation-raising) prologue set in gloomy 18th-century Liverpool, “Dark Shadows” jumps to glammy 1972. Barnabas, buried for nearly two centuries in a chained coffin, is unearthed by a quickly dispatched crew of construction workers.
Marveling at paved roads and the glowing golden arches of McDonald’s, the cane-toting Barnabas totters into town as Curtis Mayfield’s “Super Fly” blares on the soundtrack. (Composer Danny Elfman expertly mines the era’s hit parade and the original soap’s spooky cues).
The fish out of water jokes get hit hard and often, with diminishing returns. By the time Depp’s baffled Barnabas dismisses rocker Alice Cooper as the ugliest woman he’s ever seen, the schtick feels played.
Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”) hew to the original plot, more or less. The spiky-banged vampire moves back into Collinwood Manor, where his motley collection of descendants is living in reduced circumstances.
“You’ll have to imagine us on a better day,” Elizabeth says by way of introduction to the newly arrived nanny Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), who happens to be a dead ringer for Barnabas’ long lost love Josette.
“Dark Shadows” looks as sumptuous as you’d expect from Burton and longtime production designer Rick Heinrichs. Josette’s ghost is particularly lovely, and the climactic scene when the ancestral home literally comes alive, with blood-weeping portraits and writhing statues, nearly compensates for the narrative aimlessness.
Jonathan Frid, the original Barnabas who passed away last month at age 87, has a quick party-scene cameo, along with several others from the soap’s cast.
“Dark Shadows,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)
‘Where Do We Go Now?’
In the mountain village that’s the setting of “Where Do We Go Now?” the church and the mosque stand side by side. Everybody gets along, more or less. But the men are hotheaded, and the women worry that a report of sectarian violence elsewhere could set off a bloodbath at home.
So they burn the arriving newspapers and disable the town’s one TV.
The plot of this Lebanese movie is mostly about the crazy schemes the town’s women come up with to keep the men from killing one another. They concoct a message of rebuke from the Holy Virgin and import a troupe of Ukrainian burlesque dancers. (I was never exactly sure why.) They drug the men in order to hide their guns.
Most of this is funny, but when violence erupts it seems frighteningly real, and so does death when it arrives. I was surprised -- astonished, in fact -- to learn that the director, Nadine Labaki, had cast mostly amateur actors; the performances are, without exception, riveting.
The last thing I would have expected in a movie with such somber stakes is Bollywood-style musical numbers like the one in which the women cavort around the kitchen singing about lacing their pastries with hashish and tranquilizers, or the romantic duet between a Muslim and a Christian that takes place entirely in their thoughts.
The mishmash of tragedy, farce and music is exceptionally weird, and rationally it ought to add up to a disaster. Yet it doesn’t. Though the emotions that the movie summons up don’t fit together -- in truth, it’s a mess -- the scenes work on their own, and the harshest ones have a power far beyond what their context would suggest.
We see the men, through the women’s eyes, as the murderous buffoons they are. But that doesn’t still the women’s love.
You can see it in the faces lined with loss -- of sons, husbands, fathers, brothers -- during the first (and finest) number, a dance-march of serried women, stamping and swaying their heads in a slow procession toward the village cemetery.
Like those women, the movie grabs frantically at every stratagem it can think up. But what it leaves you with, finally, is the lethal reality out of which it was made.
“Where Do We Go Now?” from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***1/2 (Seligman)
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Today’s Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Lewis Lapham on books.