Rises from the Grave
By Shirrel Rhoades
Jonathan Frid died a few weeks ago. You may remember that during the late ’60s he starred in a daytime Gothic soap opera titled “Dark Shadows.” He played Barnabas Collins, a vampire who presided over the family estate of Collinwood. This was long before “True Blood” or “Twilight” or “The Vampire Diaries.”
Frid may be rolling over in his grave (not a difficult feat for a vampire) following the release of a new movie version of “Dark Shadows.” Rolling over with laughter, I’d hope, for this dark comedy – currently showing at the Tropic Cinema – is another team-up of director Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Sleepy Hollow”) and Johnny Depp (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Sleepy Hollow”).
Depp stars as a 200-year-old vampire, risen from the grave to protect Collinwood Manor and his not-so-bright ancestors. He faces a sexy foe in Eva Green, who plays a vengeful witch with a vendetta against the Collins family. Michelle Pfeiffer takes on the role of family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (portrayed by Joan Bennett in the original TV show). Jonny Lee Miller (one of Angelina Jolie’s ex’s) is cast as Elizabeth’s ne’er-do-well brother. And Bella Heathcote appears as governess Victoria Winters.
Of course, no Tim Burton film these days would be complete without his wife Helen Bonham Carter, here playing a live-in shrink at Collinwood. And as an homage to horror films, Christopher Lee makes a brief appearance as a drunken fisherman. Plus we have Alice Cooper in full Goth makeup (“The ugliest woman I’ve ever seen”) as himself.
What’s more, Jonathan Frid filmed a cameo appearance before he died.
In this fanciful telling, Barnabas Collins is accidentally freed from his coffin in the year 1971, a fish out of water who doesn’t understand such modern inventions as cars and television sets. (“What sorcery is this?” he shouts as he attacks the flickering TV). While saving his latter-day family from the witch who imprisoned him for breaking her heart, he discovers that each of them have horrifying secrets. Dark shadows, you might say.
“I shall restore the family business to its former glory,” he vows. But then meets up with his nemesis, the aforementioned beauteous witch.
Based on a dream by producer Dan Curtis about a mysterious woman on a train, the TV show’s original title was supposed to be “Shadows on the Wall” and the scripts didn’t include any supernatural elements. This weekday soap told the story of Victoria Winters (played by Alexandra Moltke), a young woman who returns to Collinsport, Maine, to “unravel the mysteries of her own past.” Barnabas Collins made his appearance about a year into the show’s run.
The old ABC television show was ahead of its time, eventually featuring ghosts, werewolves, zombies, witches and warlocks, even time travel – as well as vampires. Although now regarded as a camp classic, with its melodramatic performances and atmospheric sets, there’s still quite a cult of devotees. Appearing daily, it delivered 1,225 shows in its five year run. The show ranked 23rd on TV Guide’s list of television cult classics.
As a youngster, Johnny Depp was a big fan, pretending in his fantasies to be Barnabas Collins. And now he is.
“It is dark shadows but it's a very different angle from what the series was. There’s a fine line between soap opera and reality.”
Reality? A story about vampires and witches? “a tragic love story,” Depp calls it, tongue firm implanted in his cheek.
“Are you stoned or something?” asks a teenage member of the Collins family (Chloë Grace Moretz).
“They tried stoning me, my dear. It did not work,” replies Depp as Barnabas.
No, not even a stake through the heart could stop this from being a box-office hit.