In 1772, young Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is living a good life in Collinsport, Maine, many years after arriving from England with his parents – Joshua and Naomi Collins (Ivan Kaye and Susanna Cappellaro). They had become wealthy and renamed the fishing village after their family name.
Barnabas has a dalliance with Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), a witch, whom he later spurns in favor of heiress Josette du Pres (Bella Heathcote).
It turns out that Angelique is Josette's maid, and the cause of his parents' untimely death. She curses Josette, who falls to her death off a cliff. Barnabas follows her, but discovers he cannot die, thanks to Angelique's curse. Branded a monster by the townspeople, he is banished to a buried coffin, to suffer for all time.
Fast forward 200 years to 1972, and Victoria "Vicky" Winters (also played by Bella Heathcote), has arrived at the manor Collinswood to become a governess. She's greeted by Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley), the manor's caretaker, and welcomed by Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), the family matriarch.
Members of Elizabeth's family include her 15-year-old daughter, Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz); her brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller); and David (Gulliver McGrath), Roger's 10-year-old son (Victoria's charge). Also living in the manor is Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), young David's psychiatrist.
There are ghosts about the manor, even one of Josette. But first, while digging a trench, a construction crew accidentally finds and frees the vampire Barnabas, who is awfully thirsty from his 200-year disappearance, and makes one helluva blood feast of the work crew.
Barnabas wanders into Collinsport and finds the manor in disrepair. After insinuating himself as part of the family once again, he intends to restore the manor and family fishing business to their former glory. But before he can get started, he's paid a visit by Angelique ... yes, that Angelique, who has been her own descendant through the centuries. She also owns the fishery that has driven the Collins business to ruin.
Soon, the manor is being refreshed, the business is being renovated, and fish are being procured to process (look for horror film icon Christopher Lee as Silas Clarney, an old New England-ish fisherman). That upsets Angelique, especially when Barnabas and Vicky fall in love, and she sets out to destroy him.
And that means war.
(This is as good a time as any to tell you that Vicky's been seeing Josette's ghost since she was a child, and her parents even sent her to a mental hospital as a result. Perhaps as a result of this obsession or maybe something other-worldly, she is the spitting image of Josette.)
Barnabas Collins is a black-and-white creature in a warmly colored world. Dark Shadows is quite stylish, with a certain "Mars Attacks!" quality in the characters' makeup. I love Dr. Julia Hoffman's red hair. Also, I particularly enjoyed the 70s-era songs on the soundtrack, including "Nights in White Satin" (The Moody Blues), "Top of the World" (The Carpenters), "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" (Barry White), and "Crocodile Rock" (Elton John).
However... the story and pacing leave something to be desired.
Auditioning unsuccessfully for the part of Angelique were Anne Hathaway, Lindsay Lohan and Jennifer Lawrence. Alice Cooper plays himself.
Barnabas Collins's chalk-white complexion was created with several layers of custom greasepaint. Look for the face of Jack Skellington (The Nightmare Before Christmas' principal character) when manor caretaker Willie first meets Barnabas.
Dark Shadows is based on the 1966-1971 gothic soap opera that aired on ABC and was resurrected in 1999 on NBC. Original series cast members Jonathan Frid, Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby and Lara Parker have cameo appearances in the film as guests at a Collingwood Manor party.
Produced on a $190-million budget, Dark Shadows earned more than $238.5 million worldwide at the box office.