Let's get one thing straight: I was never a Tim Burton fan. I remember thoroughly enjoying Batman when it first came out, but when I went back to see it again the following week it was dull and empty and I realised that all its strengths were in the visuals and there wasn't really very much left for a second viewing. I kind of enjoyed Mars Attacks! and Sleepy Hollow on first viewings but I never felt sufficiently enthralled by them to revisit them, and while I genuinely admire Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd (which is doubly weird because I don't like musicals very much; I can only assume it's down to the huge number of slit throats and supporting characters turned into pies), I loathed the cheerless and miserable Edward Scissorhands and his utterly awful Planet Of The Apes. To be honest, I haven't even bothered with some of his more recent films - Alice In Wonderland and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory held absolutely no appeal for me at all.
So it's a great relief to be able to report that Dark Shadows is massively better than I could ever have hoped. Based on a daytime American soap opera from the late 60s, it's been transformed into a Gothic supernatural comedy thriller of the Addams Family ilk in which Burton can indulge his penchant for gloomy set design and Johnny Depp can put on another funny English accent (given that his character is originally from Liverpool, it's perhaps a shame he didn't play the role as a Scouser). In the late 18th Century, fishing tycoon Barnabas Collins (Depp) incurs the fury of witch Angelique (Eva Green) and is turned into a vampire and buried alive in the woods. Dug up in 1972, the white-faced Barnabas returns to what's left of his ancestral pile and sets about restoring the family and its fortunes....
The original series ran for more than 1,200 daily episodes and is still apparently something of a cult item, though to judge from the selection of clips available on YouTube looks like it was made of cardboard and could run Crossroads a close race for terrible acting, wobbly sets and borderline technical competence. Burton's movie is thankfully a completely different beast that's given the concept the budget and talent it needs if it's ever going to appeal to anyone beyond the core fan circle of a TV soap that they stopped making in 1971 (bar a few one-off comebacks). Granted the writing is a bit off in places - one character's Big Secret is never even hinted and then revealed in full in the last five minutes, and love interest Bella Heathcote's backstory is rather slammed down in one scene rather than being threaded through the film - and there's some unconvincing plot devices to get rid of frankly extraneous characters such as Johnny Lee Miller's sleazy brother, but overall it gets by.
And it's a lot of fun. There's some very easy but enjoyable comedy to be had from Barnabas' bemused reactions to his new surroundings and the technology of the day (the best bit has Depp bellowing "Out, tiny songstress!" at a TV set showing the Carpenters, while the laziest bit has Depp declaring that Alice Cooper is "the ugliest woman I have ever seen", surely an old joke even in 1972) but, in the main, it's an opportunity for a strong cast to overact a bit and have some fun: Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter in particular. The production design is great, and the 70s is an ideal setting not just because it allows for the horrid fashions of the period but it ensures the pop culture references won't get instantly dated as they would if the movie was set in 2012. I had far more enjoyment out of Dark Shadows than I'd expected given that it's Un Film De Tim Burton and while there are bits that don't gell, or don't fit, or don't entirely work, it's highly entertaining.