VANITY FAIR | April 2012
THE YOUNG AND THE LIFELESS
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp resurrect a 60s vampire, for classic chills
By Jim Windolf | Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark
The Twilight films were a lot of fun and nicely remunerative for their studio and fame-making for their stars, but compared with the vampire pictures of yore, they were a little low on the creep factor, with their protagonists so stylishly groomed and their villains flashing six-pack ab at every opportunity. Where were the cloaks? The echoing laughter? The chills?
Here to rescue contemporary cinema from what may prove to be a passing infatuation with a revisionist brand of on-screen vampirism is the mighty director-actor due of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, who bring their own peculiar and long-gestating project, Dark Shadows, to wide release next month. Based on a long-running (1,255 episodes!) cult daytime television program, which ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971, this one is likely to revive the gothic storminess, creepiness, and sense of doom that hearkens all the way back to Nosferatu (1922). And let’s not forget the macabre humor Burton and Depp bring to all of their outings from Edward Scissorhands (1990) to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).
Depp plays the roughly 200-year-old Barnabas Collins, a vampire unearthed at a construction site. This is the role first brought to life by Jonathan Frid, a boyhood hero of Depp’s, when, the actor says, he would race home from school to catch the original Dark Shadows. Also pictured here is the agelessly beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer, who portrays Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, matriarch of an aristocratic family now fallen on hard times. And there is the great Helena Bonham Carter, an off-her-rocker character in recent films of her husband (Burton), who plays psychiatrist Julia Hoffman. And, look, it’s Eva Green, who played perhaps the most formidable Bond girl ever, in Casino Royale, and who squares off against the mischievous Depp in this picture, as his centuries-long heartthrob and nemesis, a witch named Angelique Bouchard.
Deep down in their cold, cold hearts, perhaps all vampire stories are really about how human memory breaks down time and renders death something of an absurd joke. The older we get, the less we find ourselves able to release the past, or so it seems for quite a few of us twisted souls. Certain people, places, and things, once thought dead and buried, return–so vivid! just there! – to haunt us, not only in our dreams but in our waking moments as well. The players you see before you, experts all in the art of summoning emotion and planting it in the breast of those seated in movie-theater darkness, are ideally suited for the job of bringing back, under the direction of the death-haunted, mad-haired Burton, an off-kilter television show that seemed wacky in its day but may prove to be perfectly in step with our own.