Dracula, Blacula and Barnabas: Tim Burton on Dark Shadows

The director of the new horror comedy on adapting a soap opera for the screen and the possibility of a sequel.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


When Tim Burton directed Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood, they created some magic. Personally, I hoped their next collaboration would be Ed Wood Scissorhands, but instead it was Sleepy Hollow. Now after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd and Alice in Wonderland, Burton directs Depp in Dark Shadows. Burton shared some thoughts about his adaptation of the ‘70s soap opera, about vampire Barnabas Collins, in a press conference last weekend.


Dark Shadows may be the movie Johnny Depp was born to make with Tim Burton.

We talked about it for many years, but I think this is the first project that I ever remember for Johnny where he said that [he] wanted to play this ever since [he was] a little boy. It’s one of those kind of things where the show had a lot of impact for some of us. Johnny, Michelle and I were there at the time when it came out so we just recall it being a very strong, interesting property. I think it’s something with Johnny that he’s had for a long time.


But Michelle Pfeiffer was a huge Dark Shadows fan too.

It was a real joy to get a call from Michelle and find out she was a closet Dark Shadows fan. I knew that she was weird but now that’s a whole new situation, which was great, because between Michelle and Johnny, we were the only ones I think of the cast that knew Dark Shadows. So it was nice that Michelle played the head of the family and it just made me realize how much I enjoyed working with her, although she did have trouble walking down the stairs.


And then he cut out all of Pfeiffer’s good scenes.

Well, deleted scenes, there’s some stuff I cut out. All Michelle’s scenes. Each actor will have all of their best scenes that I’ve cut out of the film will be in there. No, I think there will be some stuff on it because being in the nature of the soap opera, we cut out stuff but all the actors were great so I think I’m going to look to have scenes that aren’t in the film just because the actors did such a great job and I think the soap opera nature of it. So I think we’ll probably have some stuff on there.


Making a soap opera in 2012 Hollywood.

Well, it’s a tricky tone. The weirdest challenge was to get the acting tone, the soap opera nature of the tone which like I said is a weird thing to go for on a Hollywood movie. It’s not like you go to a studio and go, “We want to do weird soap opera acting.” Like they go, “Oh, great.” Whatever that means. So it was an odd challenge to get but that’s why I was so grateful to all the cast because even the ones that didn’t know the show kind of got into the spirit of it which was what made it Dark Shadows, was trying to capture the spirit of what the show was. We all recognize, when we talk about Dark Shadows, part of its appeal was the weird nature of all the elements that went into it, very serious but it was on in the afternoon on a daily basis. So there are certain elements why we love the show but you couldn’t necessarily adopt to a film.


And to cynics who just see another TV show remake.

Going into this movie, you don’t go in there going, “Oh, Dark Shadows, what a great easy-peasy idea.” It’s not like you go into it thinking that. It’s actually a much more strange challenge. There’s Dark Shadows fans and then there’s everybody else and you can’t really make it projecting what you think it’s going to be. You just try to make a movie, first of all we make a movie that we wanted to see and then you just hope for the best. 


At least the cast of the original Dark Shadows liked it.

It was like having the Pope come visit. For us, that’s part of the reason we were there because those people inspired us. So it was nice to see them back in their early ‘70s clothing. It’s great.


The musical hits of the ‘70s on the Dark Shadows soundtrack.

The setting in 1972 was important and we just went through all the music of that year. Just doing that research it reminded me I must have been quite ill that year because I just remember that music on the AM radio, being sick and having a fever and hearing all that kind of music on AM radio over and over again. That’s why it was so strange. It was strange. It felt strange at the time and it still feels strange. That’s the weird thing about that. The quality of music, going from everything from really kind of cheesy pop to cool, hardcore stuff, it was a weird year for music. I remember Alice Cooper being quite a strong influence to me at that time and he looks exactly the same now which is really scary. I mean, Arizona must do wonders. I don’t know. But it was important to use so there was a lot of interesting music in 1972. We tried to treat it like score. We didn’t try to treat it like oh, let’s just throw in pop songs.


Vampires of 1972.

Blacula was ’72, wasn’t it? I think that was one of the only movie references that I talked to Bruno, the DP, was Blacula. That was a good year. Actually ’72 was a good year for vampires. That was like Dracula A.D. ’72. That was Christopher Lee’s I think last Dracula, and Blacula.


Does Dark Shadows leave it open for Darker Shadows?

I think it’s because of the nature of it being kind of like a soap opera, I think that was the structure. It wasn’t so much of a conscious decision to say [get ready for the sequel]. First of all, it’s a bit presumptuous to think that anything [would get a sequel]. If something works out that’s one thing but you can’t ever predict that so that had more to do with the fact of the sort of soap opera kind of structure of it.