Being a fan of both Johnny Depp and his frequent director Tim Burton, I had high hopes that, despite the lukewarm notices their new collaboration has received, I would be charmed by the above film. Well, 'charmed' is far too strong a word, and while this movie certainly had its moments, it is unfortunately deeply flawed and poorly constructed. Based on the cult 'soap' of the same name, which ran in the States between 1966 and 1970, one would have thought that this tale of a family-oriented vampire who has lain buried for two hundred years before returning to a new and different world might have been right up Burton's Gothic alley and would elicit yet another highly-stylized performance from Depp. Instead, we have something of a dog's dinner.
Although I have never viewed the TV series, I have seen one or both of the television movie spin-offs ("House of Dark Shadows", "Night of Dark Shadows") and had an idea what to expect. The film starts off OK with the background story leading to Depp's 200-year burial (some folderol about losing his one true love after spurning the advances of a local witch who placed a spell upon him) and morphs neatly into his coffin being disinterred by local workmen. He returns to the ancestral pile to the strains of a 70s pop track and meets the current remnants of his family (their fortune faltering). He is also taken aback by the technological changes during his absence. Unfortunately none of this is as camp or as broadly played as the story demands and Burton's disastrous attempt to include virtually all of the series' plot-strands into a single story falls well-short of producing a coherent film. The fault lies squarely with the script which is lazily put together and muddled by pointless twists.
The movie is neither funny enough nor gory enough with Depp's unchained blood-lust rearing its ugly head gratuitously at the least appropriate moments. He not only tears out the throats of the workmen who find his coffin, but also feels obliged to eat some hippy campers that befriend him. Most of the best gags have been over-exposed in the trailers, and the only line that really made me laugh was when Depp describes Alice Cooper as the ugliest woman he has ever seen. (Mind you why the singer was even featured in the film at all is something of a mystery). As for the rest of the cast, it is all again a mixed bag. Michelle Pfeiffer (apparently a fan of the original series) registers strongly as the matriarch of the modern-day family and Eva Green is appropriately sexy and malicious as the 1970's personification of the original witch. However the obligatory part for Helena Bonham Carter -- looking horrendous with bright red hair -- is a non-starter as the family's resident psychiatrist who craves Depp's immortality. Jackie Earle Haley as a drunken retainer under Depp's spell, Johnny Lee Miller as a thieving relation, and especially Chloe Grace Moretz as a teen-aged werewolf (don't ask) are all pretty wasted as events unfold. There is even a completely pointless cameo from genre hero Christopher Lee. Finally Bella Heathcote, an obscure Australian ingenue, as the current reincarnation of his lost love is appropriately fey-looking but given rather little to do, despite the ghost from the past that hovers by her.
Some of the special effects are mildly amusing as Depp re-explores the creepy mansion and as he has literally off-the-walls sex with Green, but these do not serve to pull together what is basically a poorly directed and often incomprehensible story. Depp strives to give us yet another of his rather weird character creations, but often looks as bemused by the mechanics of the plot as we the viewer. I just wish that both he and Burton could have had rather more fun with this movie; they obviously both set out to capture the spirit of the original, but seem to have lost their way in the process. Incidentally, the original lead Jonathan Frid, who died a few days ago, can be glimpsed briefly among the guests at the Collins family 'ball'. The movie ends with a hook for a possible sequel, but on the strength of this showing, that is hopefully unlikely.
In closing let me tell you about another film I saw immediately after the above with the unlikely title of "Nude Nuns with Big Guns" (2010), a stupid piece of Mexican (I think) crapdoodle. It would be tempting to write that I enjoyed it rather more than the Depp/Burton farrago, but that would be a big, fat, unbelievable lie!