Tim Burton's big-screen adaptation of the 1960s TV daytime drama "Dark Shadows" has a vampire, witch and werewolf. But the film feels more like a Jekyll and Hyde production.
Burton's created an odd structure. The first and last 30 minutes of the film play like a traditional horror story, from a wide-eyed and spooky performance by Australian actress Bella Heathcote to the musical score by Burton's longtime composer choice Danny Elfman. It's the patch of silliness in the middle that takes such a sharp turn that it makes the movie feel like two different films sharing the same cinematic body.
This is a case where the parts are far stronger than the whole.
What ties the two parts together is the story of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), who in the 18th century gets turned into a vampire by a spurned witch, Angelique (Eva Green). He's locked in a coffin, only to emerge in 1972 to the strange world of Troll dolls, lava lamps, macrame and male rockers named Alice.
Burton sets up this tale as "Jane Eyre" meets "Dracula," with the dark and moody story of love and loss. It would have been better to continue that tone, especially with Depp playing the vampire. He could have been the most seductive blood sucker since Tom Cruise in "Interview With the Vampire."
Instead, Burton shifts to a comedic approach that blends the dry humor of Barnabas adjusting to his new world to gags that lampoon the series. Had Burton gone straight for laughs, this would have been a fun film. It's just the odd juxtaposition to the serious parts that creates an unevenness.
It doesn't help that the advertising campaign for the movie makes it look like a slapstick comedy. The humor is there, but it's not as prominent as suggested by TV commercials.
The film's not a total loss. The huge Gothic sets are amazing and Michelle Pfeiffer turns in a solid performance as the matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. Depp's found another quirky character to embrace. And, the film features some great music from the '70s, including "Nights in White Satin."
On the other hand, Jonny Lee Miller's portrayal of ne'er-do-well Roger Collins is forgettable. And Elfman's original score, heavily influenced by the original series, doesn't have the music bite of his past efforts.
Burton usually has a clear focus when making his movies, but that wasn't the case with "Dark Shadows."
"Dark Shadows," rated PG-13 for language, violence. Stars Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloë Grace Moretz, Helena Bonham Carter, Bella Heathcote. Directed by Tim Burton. Running time: 93 minutes. Grade: C+ Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.