By rights, Tim Burton's vampire comedy "Dark Shadows" ought to be about as fresh as a buried corpse. After years of vampire mania, do we really need a vampire spoof? Aren't the "Twilight" movies funny enough?
"Dark Shadows" doesn't add anything new to the genre, but it's a surprisingly high-spirited and genuinely black-humored comedy. Fans of the '60s-era soap-opera of the same name may be disappointed to see the straight-faced characters and fog-enshrouded Maine locale become fodder for farce, but the rest of us will welcome "Dark Shadows" as the antidote to "Twilight," with Depp's aristocratic vampire-hero, Barnabas Collins, refreshingly free of the saintly chastity and healthy diet of Edward Cullen. Barnabas is more like the serial-killer protagonist of Charlie Chaplin's "Monsieur Verdoux," whose slippery amoralism only makes him more endearing.
Unlike Edward, Barnabas isn't above bedding the help (common practice in 1750, no doubt), and after awakening from slumber in 1972, he finds that women's lib has its benefits. But the new world isn't all fast women and slow-moving, tender hippies. Depressed by the decrepit state of his family's mansion (now graced by macrame and resin grapes), he slumps across the keyboard of the nearest organ, triggering a preprogrammed drumbeat.
Though Depp over-gesticulates a bit and the film sometimes overdoes the lava-lamp jokes, "Dark Shadows" shines thanks mainly to its terrific supporting cast, including Michelle Pfeiffer as a steely matriarch, Helena Bonham Carter as a pill-popping shrink and Chloe Grace Moretz as a discomfitingly sultry teenager. Bella Heathcote gives Barnabas' wholesome beloved, Victoria, an eerie, doll-like quality.
The show-stealer, however, is Eva Green ("Casino Royale") as the spurned servant Angelique, still alive and hopping mad. And though Barnabas doth protest, she's clearly his soul mate in soullessness. Their room-wrecking love scene is a treat, and unlike the one in "Twilight," played entirely for laughs.
PLOT An ancient vampire rises from his coffin in the strange new world of 1972. RATING PG-13 (comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking)
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Even after years of vampire-mania, this comedy is fresh, funny and -- be warned -- surprisingly bloody.
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