It only made sense that iconic director Tim Burton reunited some of the most beloved members of his film family for his big screen interpretation of "Dark Shadows," because after all, the gothic thriller is about a family ... albeit a dysfunctional one.
The thing that sets Burton's actors apart from the Collins clan, however, is that his frequent collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, as well as Michelle Pfeiffer (Burton's Catwoman in "Batman Returns"), have an undeniable sense of harmony on screen.
Without question, the most enduring working relationship in Burton's bunch is with Depp, who first starred for the director in "Edward Scissorhands" in 1990 and has since collaborated with him on seven more films.
In a recent interview, Burton told me one of the reasons he worked with Depp for the eighth time on "Dark Shadows" stemmed from the passion they shared for the original daytime drama, which aired on ABC from 1966 to 1971 and starred Jonathan Frid as the cursed vampire Barnabas Collins.
"We always talked about the show -- he loved it and I loved it -- but it wasn't until later that I realized that this was a character he wanted to play since he was a child," Burton said. "It was something that was a real passion for him. He becomes passionate about all of the characters he plays, but this is the first one that went way back to something that really inspired him."
Better yet, Burton got Frid to appear in a cameo in the film, along with fellow original cast members David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker.
Burton said he was "lucky and grateful" to have met Frid, who died last month at age 87.
"When he came on the set, it was kind of like having the pope visit. It was like he was blessing the set, so to speak," Burton recalled, fondly. "It's a sad thing (that he died), but I just like to look at the positive. I got to meet him and he was somebody who was an inspiration, and it was the same thing for Johnny as well."
Opening in theaters and on IMAX screens nationwide on Friday, "Dark Shadows" tells the tale of Barnabas Collins (Depp), an vampire imprisoned in a coffin by the witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) who is accidentally unearthed in 1972 after spending nearly 200 years buried underground.
Returning to his family's dilapidated estate in Maine, Barnabas not only struggles with adapting to the new and groovy times, he must find a way to protect his descendants, headed by Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Pfeiffer) from the ageless Angelique (now known as Angie -- a powerful business executive who has made a shamble of her competitors, the Collins). Even more daunting, he must find a way to reunite with the reincarnation of his love, Josette duPres (Bella Heathcoate), whom the witch murdered 200 years before.
The film also stars Bonham Carter as the Collins' live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman; Jonny Lee Miller as Elizabeth's shifty brother, Roger; Gulliver McGrath as his haunted son, David; and Chloe Grace Moretz as Elizabeth's rebellious daughter, Carolyn. Jackie Earle Haley rounds out the cast as estate's drunkard caretaker, Willie Loomis.
For Burton, personally, "Dark Shadows" gave the filmmaker yet another chance to access another corner of his endlessly creative mind, and in the process, to find new meaning for a popular theme that's run throughout his films: the feeling of isolation.
"There are maybe certain similarities to this character and others in the terms of characters that don't fit into society, which goes back to 'Scissorhands' and things like that," Burton observed. "The difference with this character -- and this is something I've learned to apply as I've gotten older -- is not only the feeling of not fitting into society, but being around a long time and not fitting into society. Barnabas is an old soul and a character who has experienced life quite extensively, yet comes into the world and feels completely out of sync and out of place. It's sort of a new element you can only bring to the table as you get older."
Much like he's done in the past, Burton surprised the movie-going public with the release of the first trailer for "Dark Shadows," a gathering of scenes that revealed a comedic tone decidedly different from the original series.
And while "Dark Shadows" is far from an out-and-out comedy (Barnabas is a vampire after all, and with vampires comes blood and mayhem), Burton said it was never his intention to define his film with a certain genre.
"I never sat down during filming and said to any of the actors, crew or writer, 'OK, this is a comedy or this is a drama,'" Burton, 53, explained. "All we tried to do is capture -- and it's a hard thing to put into words -- the weird tone of the original 'Dark Shadows.' It had a certain kind of acting style that was sort of melodramatic, soap opera-y and serious."
"It was never meant to be campy or made fun of, it was just more of trying to capture the weird tone of it -- to capture my memory of how 'Dark Shadows' made me feel," Burton added. "It was more going for a feeling than a literal thing. If you made it literally, it would be like an Ed Wood movie. It was more about capturing the spirit and coming at it from an affectionate point-of-view, which is what I have for the series."
Like he has before with films like "Batman," Burton with "Dark Shadows" faced the unique quandary of interpreting material that had a built-in fan base, yet doing so in his own distinct style. Basically, he said, when you take on an established property, you have to accept the fact that you will have detractors no matter how faithful you are to the material.
"It's always a risky thing. First of all, you're never going to please everybody no matter what you do," Burton said. "Here, you run the risk of alienating 'Dark Shadows' fans, but then you have to realize, too, that there's even a larger group of audience members that's never even heard of it."
Ultimately, Burton explained, you simply have to go with what you think is right for the film.
"I've never gone into anything thinking, 'Oh well, this will satisfy the comic book fans or the action fans.' I remember casting Michael Keaton as Batman and everybody got all up in arms because they thought we were going to make it like the TV series or that it was going to be like a comedy," Burton recalled. "But I always felt comfortable with what we were doing on 'Batman' and I feel similar about 'Dark Shadows.' I know we're not making fun of it or making a joke out of it."