Though there is nothing in “Dark Shadows” as singularly horrible as the musical number in “Alice In Wonderland” or pretty much all the musical numbers in “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory,” I still feel fairly confident in declaring it probably Tim Burton’s worst film ever. But unlike the two aforementioned disasters — which featured some gaudy and truly awful CG enhanced production design — the blame for ‘Shadows’ falls mainly on the script by first-time screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (author of the literary mash-ups “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”). So inept is the screenplay that It barely qualifies as a movie, though closest relative might be a rotten version of “The Addams Family.” Based on the 1960s soap opera, the film centers on the Collins clan, a dysfunctional family living in their decrepit mansion in a fishing town in Maine that bears their name.
The Collins’ have fallen on hard times with their home and fishing business both in disarray until they’re visited unexpectedly by ancestor Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), a vampire returning from the 1700’s. The film opens with a prologue set in 1752 which establishes a heavy dose of exposition, setting up who this family is, how Barnabas became a vampire - cursed by witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) and his doomed romance with lover Josette (Bella Heathcote) - before skipping ahead to 1972.There we meet Victoria Winters (also Heathcote) on her way to the Collins’ home to serve potentially as nanny for their young son. This opening actually works better than anything else in the film, with the mystery of how Victoria might be related to Josette an entryway for the audience and the tone setting up a 70’s low-key horror vibe that is quickly abandoned for some ill-advised comedy.
Victoria’s story is also shoved into the background and abandoned pretty soon after we meet the family which includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz and Gulliver McGrath. While it probably worked great for the original soap to feature so many characters, the movie just feels overcrowded and none of them serve much purpose. The story lunges ineptly from scene to scene with nothing propelling the story forward. The production design is nice but so what? The early scenes made me long for a full-on horror film from the director (since the closest he’s come is “Sleepy Hollow”) but that seems unlikely at this point. Burton has said that he wouldn’t know a good script if it bit him in the face and unfortunately one hasn’t bit him in a long time.