Via the flm’s production notes, we begin a multi-part look back at the making of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, which stars Johnny Depp as vampire Barnabas Collins.
In the year 1752, Joshua and Naomi Collins, with young son Barnabas, set sail from Liverpool, England to start a new life in America. But even an ocean was not enough to escape the mysterious curse that has plagued their family. Two decades pass and Barnabas (Johnny Depp) has the world at his feet—or at least the town of Collinsport, Maine. The master of Collinwood Manor, Barnabas is rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy…until he makes the grave mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). A witch, in every sense of the word, Angelique dooms him to a fate worse than death: turning him into a vampire, and then burying him alive. Two centuries later, Barnabas is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin. The dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared little better, each harboring their own dark secrets.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
A reluctant vampire with an irresistible allure. A mysterious ingénue, who is inexorably drawn to him. A jealous vixen, who is both seductress and sorceress. A strange family in a creepy old mansion, with secrets around every corner. These were some of the hallmarks of a hugely popular series in the late 1960s that broke the mold of daytime television. In an era already marked by tremendous upheaval, “Dark Shadows” shook up the soap opera status quo with its unique blend of gothic mystery, romance and melodrama. Suddenly, young people were racing home from school to follow the strange twists and turns of the Collins family. Without DVRs, or even VCRs, to record missed episodes, “Dark Shadows” became the definition of “appointment television” for a generation of devoted fans, for whom it remains a cult favorite.
One of the series’ aficionados was Tim Burton, who grew up to break a few molds himself as a filmmaker renowned for his singularly imaginative style. He offers, “The show had a specific vibe. It was a soap opera, but with a weird, supernatural undercurrent.”
Johnny Depp, who stars as Barnabas Collins, recalls, “There was nothing like it, certainly not in the daytime, with its vampires and ghosts and witches. I’ve always been attracted to that genre, even as a very young kid, so when I got a hold of ‘Dark Shadows,’ I didn’t let go.”
Depp might be speaking literally. Decades later, he is not only playing the film’s central role but also producing the movie, with Richard D. Zanuck, Graham King, Christi Dembrowski and David Kennedy. “Dark Shadows” also marks his eighth collaboration with director Tim Burton, continuing their remarkable cinematic partnership. “Obviously, the one person who immediately came to mind to bring this project to life was Tim,” Depp states. “He became really pumped up about it as we began to develop it.”
“Johnny always puts 100 percent into everything he does, and I could tell right away he had a passion for this,” says Burton. “I was excited to see where we could go with the story, and I
knew it would be a lot of fun.”
Producer Richard D. Zanuck, who has been working with the director for more than ten years, relates, “Tim Burton is probably the main reason I’m still making movies today. He is an artist in the truest sense—a great technician with a spectacularly colorful imagination, and he is able to translate that to the screen with his own signature approach.”
In bringing “Dark Shadows” to the big screen, Burton was keen to retain the spirit of the show, while recognizing “it’s a hard thing to try to capture. It’s not something you can remake exactly because there were more than 1200 episodes and there was such an elusive tone to it, but it was always our inspiration.”
Nevertheless, producer Graham King emphasizes that you don’t have to have been a follower of the show—or even be old enough to remember it—to enjoy the film. “We know there are still a lot of ‘Dark Shadows’ fans out there, Tim and Johnny among them. So we always wanted to be respectful of the series, but the movie was obviously made for today’s audiences, so, with the added layer of Tim’s magical direction, it stands on its own. It’s big in scope with some outrageous characters, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s funny and quirky as hell.”
Producer Christi Dembrowski adds, “I knew that Johnny and Tim would create a new life for ‘Dark Shadows’ and bring the magic back in their own unique way. I think this version is
something the original fans will appreciate, while it introduces a whole new audience to the characters we loved.”
Producer David Kennedy had been partnered with the series’ creator, the late Dan Curtis, years after the show wrapped, and Curtis would come to entrust Kennedy with perhaps his most
inventive creation. Kennedy reveals that the satirical bent in Burton’s new incarnation of “Dark Shadows” was always part of Curtis’s vision. “When Tim and Johnny talked about what they wanted to do with ‘Dark Shadows,’ they had such a sense of fun that I just knew it was in the right hands. I honestly don’t think the movie could ever have happened without them, and also Christi.”
He continues, “I’m sure there are going to be hardcore ‘Dark Shadows’ fans who are going to say that the original series didn’t have that much humor in it. And it didn’t. But Dan always wanted it to, and I think he’d be really happy with where we ended up. For me personally, it’s a dream come true.”
Being a part of “Dark Shadows” was also a dream come true for star Michelle Pfeiffer, a selfdescribed “diehard follower” of the series. “I was obsessed,” she nods. “It was the first vampire
show ever on television. My mother probably assumed, given that it was on in the afternoon, it was safe for me to be watching, but I always felt like I was somehow breaking the rules because it was quite terrifying and sexy, too, especially for that time.”
Helena Bonham Carter recalls, “During filming, Michelle had the show on a 24-hour-loop in makeup, so I could see it was very original for its day. But it’s hard now to imagine Tim and
Johnny being scared by that,” she laughs.
In writing the screenplay, Seth Grahame-Smith, who also crafted the story with John August, says, “We wanted to make sure there were moments of real fright, as well as romance, lust and comedy. To me, the fun was in weaving in those elements of humor and horror.”
Much of the humor arises out of the fish-out-of-water circumstance of Barnabas Collins, an 18thcentury lothario who breaks the heart of a heartless witch by the name of Angelique. When Barnabas declares his love for another, the ethereal Josette, Angelique exacts her revenge on both of them: taking Josette’s life while giving Barnabas an eternal one as a vampire. It’s not much of a life, however, as she proceeds to bury him in a coffin forever…or at least the foreseeable future.
Nearly 200 years later, Barnabas is released from his would-be tomb by a rather unfortunate team of construction workers. The world of 1972 is, of course, markedly different from the one Barnabas left. “It sparked a whole series of ideas,” says Depp. “The thought of this very elegant man of the 1700s, having been cursed and locked away for 200 years, coming back to 1972— maybe the worst time, aesthetically, in human existence, where people accepted everything from macramé jewelry and resin grapes to lava lamps. We thought what a great way to incorporate this vampire being the eyes that we never had back then, the eyes that can see the absurdity in those things.”
Burton, who was a teenager in the 1970s, agrees, adding, “It was not so much making fun of the time, just seeing things from a different perspective. When you think of mood rings and Pet Rocks… I suppose you could find peculiar things in any era but, looking back on that stuff, as eras go, that one does seem stranger than most.”
A stranger in a strange era, Barnabas returns to the one place he knows: the once-grand Collinwood Manor. He finds the mansion in dreadful disrepair and his few remaining relatives
equally fractured. Burton says, “It all boiled down to trying to capture the dynamics of this family, who happen to be a little out of the ordinary. I mean, there’s a certain internal dynamic
that occurs in any family, and that was something that interested me.”
TO BE CONTINUED