From Dark Shadows to a Triumph of Colours: Tim Burton's Intertextual Homage to the TV Serial

By Sanna, Antonio | Interactions, Spring-Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

From Dark Shadows to a Triumph of Colours: Tim Burton's Intertextual Homage to the TV Serial


Sanna, Antonio, Interactions


The daytime TV soap opera Dark Shadows was created in 1966 by Dan Curtis, the television "auteur" who produced and/or directed twelve horror films between 1968 and 1996, such as Dracula (1973, with Jack Palance in the title role), Trilogy of Terror (1974) and Curse of the Black Widow (1977). The programme, which became the first to be sold in syndication, was broadcast on ABC in the mid-afternoon from June 1966 to April 1971. Initially conceived as a serial merely set in a Gothic atmosphere, Dark Shadows became progressively more supernatural with the introduction of ghosts, vampires, witches, werewolves, time travels and parallel universes, thus presenting a mixture of the soap opera's "family saga" and the Gothic drama. Many plotlines are in fact recognizable references to popular works such as Alexandre Dumas' 1844The Count of Montecristo, Charlotte Bronte's 1847 Jane Eyre, Daphne du Maurier's 1938 Rebecca and several of Edgar Allan Poe's short stories. The programme reached the amount of 20 million viewers at its peak and its narrative was then extended through the production of novels, comic books, costumes, board games, conventions, board games and audio dramas (Jowett 208).

The most recent production derived from the serial is Tim Burton's Dark Shadows. The 2012 film can be rightfully defined as a faithful adaptation of the original soap opera: the American director has appropriated and compressed the material on the major characters developed through hundreds of episodes and has only slightly altered the general storyline. For viewers who are familiar with the primary source, it is indubitably a pleasure to discover the quotations of the original scripts and to follow the insertion in the film of many of the TV serial's specific images. The most evident example is offered by the image of the waves crushing against the rocks in the main titles of the TV programme, which are framed on many occasions throughout the film. Furthermore, precisely as was the case in the soap opera (which was revived in 1991 and in 2006), the main character of the film is Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), the reluctant vampire whose tragic figure was actually modelled according to the phenomenal fan response to the character (Thompson 57-8). Indeed, the development of the vampire, interpreted on the small screen by Jonathan Frid, was actually shaped by the fans' collective interpretation of him as a lonely victim of his own supernatural condition (Jowett 49) and thus anticipated reluctant vampires such as Louis in Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, Edward Cullen in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga and Stefan Salvatore in The Vampire Diaries (2009-). Burton ambiguously depicts Barnabas as a savage murderer unwillingly forced to kill by his thirst for blood, but also as a calm and honourable individual with a noble posture, good manners and a deep belief in family values.

Nevertheless, Burton simultaneously underlines the effective difference of Barnabas from his descendants, a trait which constitutes the major source of irony in the whole film. Imprisoned in the 1776, the vampire is mistakenly freed in 1972 (interestingly, in the original serial by the greed of a single man hunting for family heirlooms, whereas here by the workers of a multinational corporation) and experiences many difficulties in adapting to the modern world. His initial encounters with paved roads, troll dolls and cars or attempts to understand concepts such as doctor/patience confidentiality provide viewers with continuous hilarity, especially when he addresses and then attacks a television-thus ironically asserting that the cinematic film is better than the TV serial-actually in order to intimate the singer of The Carpenters to come out of the box. We could therefore apply Will Brooker's definition of the director's oeuvre as characterized by "eerily comic film[s] about gothic outsiders, freaks and clowns" (54) to Dark Shadows as well. Precisely as in Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005), the title character is an outsider, both for his "different" appearance and for his nature as "the Other". …

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