Of witch and vampire

Tim Burton's greatest hits of weirdos pitch a blood-sucking Johnny Depp against a heartbroken voodoo girl

The Collins mansion is fashionably decrepit and predictably haunted. With the wispy chandelier like fluorescent jellyfish, a wide staircase entwined by carved serpents and crumbling, pre-Victorian opulence, the estate mirrors the inhabitants: Tim Burton's greatest hits of weirdos, lost children, glamourous widows, and embittered souls living out their Gothic soap. The house is a museum of Burton's chic grotesquerie _ childish, moonstruck, cartoonishly scary _ and this time, it is vamped up by a vampire and the 1970s rock'n roll nostalgia. At one point Alice Cooper makes an appearance, and that's one of the few highs Dark Shadows has dished out (and young viewers would go, Alice Cooper who?).

Not as trippy as Alice in Wonderland, and with the rapt stench of Grand Guignol in Sweeney Todd and Sleepy Hollow only at a cut price, Dark Shadows, based on a TV series, is unlikely to live long in our memory to become a vintage Burton. And while we have Bella Heathcote admirably doing the Winona Ryder of Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and Michelle Pfeiffer as the velvety Madame, the madcap energy struggles to run at full steam. Then Johnny Depp, of course, is doing the Depp thing. In pallid make-up occasionally stained by the red vampiric beverage, the actor gives us what we want, not more, not less: that Depp-patented, lovable creepiness of a stylish monster that's the foundation of his global fame.

Entombed for 200 years, Barnabus Collins (Depp) is awakened by a construction tractor and proceeds to drink the blood of 11 workmen because, after two centuries, he's thirsty. It is 1972, and the last time Barnabus walked the street of Maine is mid-1700s. The modern world baffles him, but soon he gropes his way back to the Collins Estate where he once lived before a heartbroken witch (Eva Green) struck him with the curse of vampiris and imprisoned him in a coffin. Back in his family home, Barnabus reunites with his modern-day relatives: Elizabeth (Pfeiffer), her disaffected daughter Carolyn (Chole Grace Moretz from Kickass and Hugo), her depressed nephew David (Gulliver McGrath). Completing the roster of Burton's favourite misfits are the house shrink, Dr Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and the newly arrived governess Victoria (Bella Heathcote), who has a secret of her own.

What follows is Barnabus's attempt to restore the former glory of his family by resurrecting the seafood business on the coast, which has been usurped by the ruthless businesswoman Angelique Bouchard. Now a slinky, sexy blonde, this Angelique is actually the witch who cursed and locked up Barnabus 200 years ago (still played by Eva Green, formidably witchy). The jokes _ yes, this is a comedy, what else could it be? _ stretch themselves a little too thin as Barnabus bares fangs and locks horn and then makes voodoo love with Angelique, while the most obvious pop-regalia of the 1970s chip in sight gags and soundtrack. We laughed along, yet all the while in the dark coffin of the cinema I longed to rewatch Burton's sad and sardonic Corpse Bride for the kind of macabre romance that fails pretty flat here.

Dark Shadows boils with the same Burton ingredients, plus the trick of the 1970s rock 'n roll dash: we have Iggy Pop, The Carpenters, Crocodile Rock, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper (though the last song is by The Killers), and a bunch of hippies smoking pot. But chiefly, the elements that sometimes give Burton's films a deeper, sadder dimension _ the lonely misfits, the orphaned boys and girls, the search for love and acceptance by the marginalised, in short, those things that make us not only forgive but root for the fantastic juvenilism of Burton's movies _ those things are missing, or at best cobbled up half-heartedly. As much as it tries to make this a love story, we don't feel its heart pulsating. Barnabus is a vampire who wants his life back, but neither he nor the film truly succeeds.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Bangkok Post columnist