The beginning of the trailer is straight-up gothic horror: an 18th-century romance, a jealous witch, a freshly born vampire crying blood, a hushed ghost whispering “He’s coming …”
Then Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows turns on the laugh track.
This movie, based on the 1966-1971 supernatural soap opera, turns out to take its source material not so seriously. When the buried undead bloodsucker Barnabas Collins is freed from his tomb in the year 1972, he finds the time period … a little funky.
“What sorcery is this?” Barnabas sneers at a TV broadcast of the Carpenters singing “Top of the World.” As he rips out the back of the television, sparks fly, and the confused vampire cries out: “Reveal yourself, tiny songstress!”
His “present day” Collins relatives (Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonny Lee Miller, and Chloe Moretz, with Helena Bonham Carter as the family’s eccentric psychiatrist) greet him uncomfortably over waffles as he reasserts himself as the pater familias after two centuries away, making no secret of the fact that he’s a vampire. We see him before a sink as the camera spins around to reveal he has no reflection — just a red toothbrush hovering in mid-air, polishing invisible fangs.
Then things even get a little kinky. Eva Green’s witch, Angelique, rips off her red panties and places them over Barnabas’ face in his coffin. When he meets her in the year 1972, she attempts to seduce him again, 200 years after turning him into a vampire. She pulls open her blouse, and Depp ogles her heaving bosom and haltingly deadpans: “I must admit, they … have… not … aged … a day.”
Cue T. Rex’s disco hit “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” as a surreal love scene plays out as the two supernatural creatures seduce each other, much to Barnabas’ chagrin. Later, Barry White’s “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” plays while they writhe around the ceiling of a room and plunge into a couch as her (forked) tongue caresses his throat.
It sets up a kind of comedic, supernatural version of Fatal Attraction as Barnabas and Angelique war with each other, with his decadent Me Decade family caught in the crossfire. At one point, she tries to smash him with a disco ball.
Those craving serious treatment of the material may be disappointed, but fans of Burton’s twisted sense of humor who don’t come with major expectations may be surprised to find this movie is more farce than horror.
“Are you stoned or something?” Chloe Moretz asks Barnabas, echoing a question viewers of this giddy trailer may be wondering about Burton, Depp, and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter).
“They tried stoning me, my dear!” Depp’s vampire replies with a proud grin. “It did NOT work!”
For me, the trailer does work. We’ll see if this offbeat treatment continues to function when Dark Shadows debuts May 11.