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Plugged In Rating
MPAA Rating
Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Romance
Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins; Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard; Helena Bonham Carter as Dr. Julia Hoffman; Eva Green as Angelique Bouchard; Jackie Earle Haley as Willie Loomis; Jonny Lee Miller as Roger Collins; Bella Heathcote as Victoria Winters/Josette DuPres; Chloë Grace Moretz as Carolyn Stoddard; Gulliver McGrath as David Collins; Alice Cooper as Himself
Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish, Planet of the Apes, Sleepy Hollow)
Warner Bros.
In Theaters
May 11, 2012
On Video
October 2, 2012
Paul Asay

Dark Shadows

There are tons of reasons to abstain from sex before marriage. Young adults who take their promise-ring vows seriously don't have to worry about venereal disease or unexpected pregnancies, for instance. They won't get caught up in all the emotional weirdness that can accompany casual hookups. And most importantly, they're following God's directives.

If all that wasn't enough, abstinence also makes it less likely that you'll be turned into a vampire and locked in a coffin for the next 200 years.

Alas, Barnabas Collins didn't learn that lesson.

Let's harken back to the late 1700s to meet Barnabas—a handsome, fabulously rich fishing magnate who has a fling with his servant, Angelique. No big deal, right? All the rich, handsome fishing magnates are doing it.

But when Barnabas meets his true love—a pretty if consumptive-looking girl named Josette—he breaks things off with Angelique. Little does he know that Angelique is, in fact, a witch.

She's not a "nasty ex who might hack into an 18th-century Facebook account" sort of witch. Not a "graduated from Hogwarts with honors" sort of witch. No, Angelique's a real witch, and before you can say "Double, double, toil and trouble," she's killed Barnabas' parents, sent poor ol' Josette off Widow's Peak and turned Barnabas himself into a vampire. Then she has her undead ex-lover tossed into a coffin, chained up good and tight, and thrown it into a pit. There she hopes he'll remain, stewing for all eternity (perhaps lamenting that he should've taken his youth pastor's good advice about sex more seriously).

It's 1972 when a cadre of unsuspecting construction workers accidentally releases Barnabas from his gothic prison. After getting a quick bite to eat (the construction workers), the vampire takes stock of this new world he's arisen to and quickly concludes that things have gone from bad to worse: Mephistopheles himself seems to rule the land (manifested by large, glowing McDonald's signs). His historic home is in disrepair. His distant progeny have fallen on hard times.

Worst of all, Angelique is still alive and kicking—and she's devoted her long, long life to driving the Collins' fishing empire into near bankruptcy through a combination of nefarious witchcraft and savvy business acumen.

Thank goodness Barnabas has finally learned his lesson. After all, Angelique took away his parents and his girlfriend and his family business and his very soul. He's had two centuries to consider his mistakes. He certainly won't fall for Angelique's womanly wiles again.

Except when he does.

Positive Elements

"Remember, Barnabas," his father tells him, "family is the only real wealth."

This may be the only real lesson Barnabas manages to internalize in his two centuries of imprisonment, so it's nice that it's an important one. Barnabas is a vampire of many faults, but he does care deeply for his family.

How does this love manifest itself? Well, he swears not to kill any of 'em, for one thing—not an insignificant promise, given his bloodthirsty nature. But deeper connections form as the film wears on: He tries to restore the family's fortunes and good name (such as it is), and takes a particular interest in David Collins, a troubled young lad plagued with visions from his dead mother. He slips the boy under his ice-cold wing and becomes something of a father figure to him—a necessity, considering the fact that Roger, David's biological father, is something of a scoundrel. (Barnabas tries to get Roger to take more responsibility and become the dad David deserves, but Roger bolts instead.)

When a mirrored ball nearly falls on David, Barnabas lunges to save him—even though it means diving through sunlight, which ignites his undead back and reveals his true nature to David and the rest of the Collins clan.

Spiritual Content

Dark Shadows is a gothic horror-comedy steeped in the occult. Barnabas calls Angelique a "succubus of Satan" and a "harlot of the Devil." And he means it. She comes by her powers through an infernal alliance, and her spells—ranging from traditional incantations to voodoo-like conjurations—call on obviously dark powers.

When Barnabas mistakes an oncoming car for a demon, he hollers, "Have at me, Lucifer! My soul is prepared!" Indeed, he mistakes many technological wonders for either demonic manifestations or sorcery, and it should be noted that his own transformation into a creature of the shadow was not a willing one: Angelique turned him into the monster that he is, and he longs to be human again. He confesses that whenever he kills, "a piece of my wretched soul dies." He hopes that a transfusion of blood will purify him.

Ghosts and werewolves also take part in the story—all indirectly created through Angelique's machinations. Paintings and people weep blood. Carvings come to life. Barnabas tells his would-be girlfriend Victoria that her parents (who sent her to an insane asylum when she was a child) "deserve to boil in hell's everlasting sulfur." This sentiment is espoused at one point: I guess if it makes you happy, what difference does it make what you believe?

Sexual Content

After Barnabas escapes from his underground prison, he meets with Angelique in her modern office and, after she strips off her shirt (revealing her bra), the two engage in preternatural sex. They roll around on the floor, then slam into the walls and the ceiling, clawing and destroying almost everything in their way as they writhe and moan. At one juncture, she caresses him with four arms; at another, she licks his face with a lizard-like tongue.

Barnabas also allows family psychologist Dr. Julia Hoffman to perform oral sex on him. (We see her head move down toward his waist.)

There is technically no nudity in the movie, but bare-breasted carvings appear to come to life. Angelique often wears cleavage-revealing outfits. She takes off her panties (from under her skirt) and puts them on Barnabas' face as she prepares to bury him alive (again). Carolyn, a 15-year-old Collins girl, dresses and dances provocatively; Barnabas mistakes her for a "woman of the night."

David says Carolyn touches herself and makes noises "like a kitten." Roger and a female coat-checker gear up for sex while David is made to guard the door. (We see them kissing.) Angelique reminds Barnabas of all the places they've made love. She forces him to press his hand on her breast and reaches down to touch his crotch. Featured music either from the '70s or a tribue to that decade includes "Go All the Way." At a party, caged girls dance for the revelers.

Violent Content

Barnabas, ostensibly Dark Shadows' hero, kills quite a few innocent people. Eleven die the night he's released. And we see him hit one man's head against a pipe and bite another's neck. After getting advice from a collection of hippies, he tells them, regrettably, that he'll have to kill all of them too—and he does. (We hear the victims' screams.) Later, when he learns that Julia has been using his blood in a bid to make herself immortal, he brags to her that he can drain a man of blood in around seven seconds—and plans to suck hers in five. "I am neither good nor gentle," he says before killing her, "and I do not forgive."

Barnabas also grasps and lifts a man by his neck. He chomps on a woman's neck in order to "save" her life. We several times see his face and hands dripping blood.

A porlonged scene shows a woman getting pumped full of shotgun shells. (We see the bullets' bloodless impact.) She's hit repeatedly by a man, her face and body gradually cracking and breaking apart into shards. Angelique undergoes a series of grotesque contortions, and she punctures her own chest to pull out an unreal-looking purple heart, which then crumbles in her hands. 

Statues and carvings come to life and attack the living and undead. A werewolf bites Angelique's arm. (She throws the beast aside.) A woman is impaled on a chandelier. A ghost acts out her own death. A body—later reanimated—is dumped in the icy water. A girl is taken to an insane asylum and "treated" with shock therapy. (We see her scream in pain.) Angry citizens storm the manor Collinwood twice. People either jump or are sent off cliff faces to hit the rocks far below. (Sometimes they die, sometimes they don't.)

Crude or Profane Language

Three s-words and a variety of other profanities, including "a‑‑" (used once), "b‑‑ch" (twice), "b‑‑tard" (three times), "h‑‑‑" (four times) and "d‑‑n" (six times). We hear Jesus' name abused a couple of times. God's is misused a half-dozen or more. Crude references are made to sexual body parts.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Hippies pass around a marijuana joint. Carolyn, who often appears to be on something herself, asks Barnabas whether he's stoned. "They tried to stone me," he says. "It did not work." Others smoke cigarettes and drink. When Barnabas decides to throw a ball, Carolyn tells him that it must include "booze. Lots of booze." Julia pops pills.

Other Negative Elements

Roger, while in the cloakroom with the female coat-checker, steals wallets and pocketbooks. Barnabas hypnotizes people as a way to force them to do his bidding.

Alice Cooper's classic rock shenanigans get a plug. Angelique projectile vomits (fire-hose style) cascades of greenish goo. Barnabas drinks blood from a goblet.


Dark Shadows is loosely based on ABC's 1966-71 gothic soap opera of the same name. Director Tim Burton and stars Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer were all big fans of the show, with Depp admitting that he once aspired to be Barnabas. "I think a lot of kids did," he told Entertainment Weekly. "He was super-mysterious, with that really weird hairdo and the wolf's-head cane. Good stuff."

Depp brings his ever-present and off-kilter charisma to this new reimagining of Barnabas, where he's both lighter and more sympathetic than the character on TV. In theaters, he's not the sort of vampire who would manipulate women to channel his true love (as he did in the ABC version) or try to kill little David (as he also did). Rather, he's more of an eccentric favorite uncle.

Setting aside for a moment all the sultry sexuality and overt occultism found here, that may be Dark Shadows' sneakiest subject: It makes it too easy to forgive the fact, as his family does, that Barnabas is quite literally a cold-blooded killer. Sure, he may have a heart, but it stopped working 200 years prior.

And when a twist at the end—involving a twisted neck of course—prompts Barnabas to tell us, "My curse has finally been broken," we're supposed to be happy for him.

Now, reinserting into the discussion that dark, semi-violent sexuality and outrageously casual acceptance of the occult, we find ourselves face-to-face with a pretty disturbing picture. A picture of a vampire, eternally separated from God, the old tropes tell us, who kills for sport and has sex with all the girls who aren't his true love.

He left me feeling a little unnerved, quite frankly, thinking that a) damning your girlfriend for all eternity is a curious way to show your love and b) a curse doesn't stop being a curse just because you share it with someone.