anne_mikolay_2012_120When director Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows hits movie theaters this week, Johnny Depp fans will be thrilled. Once again, the versatile Depp proves himself a chameleon and “becomes” his character. Non-Depp fans, however, may not be pleased; Burton’s film renders the legendary character of Barnabas Collins unrecognizable.

The original Dark Shadows, created by Dan Curtis, was an American Gothic soap opera that aired on ABC from 1966 until 1971. Despite its melodramatic performances and otherworldly plot, the show became a cult classic with a die-hard fan base that persists to this day. The fictional Barnabas/Josette/Angelique triangle that began in the “Old House” in 1795 was Gothic romance at its best. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, and Collinwood is unfamiliar to you, or if you are “into” vampires, thanks to the recent Twilight series, you may enjoy Tim Burton’s latest creation. If the Dark Shadows trailer is an indication of what’s to come, fans of the original Gothic television series may be disappointed.

In Tim Burton’s interpretation of Dark Shadows, Johnny Depp’s Barnabas Collins is a cross between Willy Wonka and Beetlejuice. The movie skips the infamous Barnabas/Josette/Angelique romantic triangle that drew viewers to the fictional classic in the first place. While Burton’s sets are stunning and the special effects are great (love the way Depp/Barnabas flies up out of his coffin), this is not your mother’s Dark Shadows, nor is this film a remake. Rather, it is a recreation, a new twist, on the old series. Not too much in Burton’s film will be familiar to fans of the Dan Curtis’ series (except a few familiar faces of original cast members featured in cameos).

Thanks to Tim Burton and Johnny Depp (who admits to being a huge fan of the series, specifically the character of Barnabas Collins), a new generation will be introduced to the saga of the Collins family. I wish, however, they had produced a serious movie rather than a spoof, a comedy, but Burton obviously knows his audience well and created this new Collinwood for the younger movie goer with money to burn rather than for a nostalgic, older generation.

The only reason for non-Depp/Burton followers to watch this new Dark Shadows is to see original series actors David Selby, John Karlen, Marie Wallace, the late Jonathan Frid, and my favorites, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker, in their cameos. It certainly wouldn’t be to revisit the classy, tortured Barnabas Collins created by Jonathan Frid; the modern Barnabas is lighthearted and downright clownish. I suppose that’s what happens when a director puts a comedic spin on the Gothic, but fans of the original series hoping for the “flavor of old” would do better reading Lara Parker’s Dark Shadows books or Kathryn Leigh Scott’s Dark Passages.

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Dark Shadows will no doubt be a success, but every time I see Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, I can’t help thinking, “Trick or Treat.” 

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Anne Mikolay

Anne M. Mikolay joined The Atlantic Highlands Herald as a columnist in 2008. Prior to penning “The Armchair Critic,” Anne wrote feature articles for The Monmouth Journal. Her work has appeared in national...