Director Tim Burton brings the cult classic series “Dark Shadows” to the big screen in a film featuring an all-star cast, led by Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter.
In the year 1750, Joshua and Naomi Collins, with young son Barnabas, set sail from England to start a new life in America, where they build a fishing empire in the coastal Maine town that comes to carry their name: Collinsport. Two decades pass and Barnabas (Johnny Depp) has the world at his feet. The master of Collinwood Manor, Barnabas is rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy…until he makes the grave mistake of falling in love with a beauty named Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote) and breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). A witch in every sense of the word, Angelique dooms him to a fate worse than death—turning him into a vampire, and then burying him…alive.
Nearly two centuries later, Barnabas is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972, a stranger in an even stranger time. Returning to Collinwood Manor, he finds that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin, and the dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared little better, each harboring their own dark secrets.
Family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the one person Barnabas entrusts with the truth of his identity. But his rather odd and anachronistic behavior immediately raises the suspicions of the live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), who has no idea what kind of problems she’s really digging up.
As Barnabas sets out to restore his family name to its former glory, one thing stands in his way: Collinsport’s leading denizen, who goes by the name Angie…and who bears a striking resemblance to a very old acquaintance of Barnabas Collins.
Also residing in Collinwood Manor are Elizabeth’s ne’er-do-well brother, Roger Collins, (Jonny Lee Miller); her rebellious teenage daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Chloë Grace Moretz); and Roger’s precocious 10-year-old son, David Collins (Gully McGrath). The longsuffering caretaker of Collinwood is Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley), and new to the Collins’ employ is David’s nanny, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), who is, mysteriously, the mirror image of Barnabas’ one true love, Josette.
Burton directed “Dark Shadows” from a screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, story by John August and Grahame-Smith, based on the television series created by Dan Curtis. The producers are Oscar® winner Richard D. Zanuck (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Driving Miss Daisy”), Oscar® winner Graham King, (“Rango,” “The Departed”), Johnny Depp, Christi Dembrowski, and David Kennedy. The executive producers are Chris Lebenzon, Nigel Gostelow, Tim Headington, and Bruce Berman.
The behind-the-scenes creative team includes cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, Oscar®-winning production designer Rick Heinrichs (“Sleepy Hollow”), Oscar®-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood (“Alice in Wonderland”) and editor Chris Lebenzon. The score was composed by four-time Oscar® nominee Danny Elfman (“Milk,” “Big Fish,” “Men in Black,” “Good Will Hunting”).
A Warner Bros. Pictures presentation in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, an Infinitum Nihil/GK Films/Zanuck Company production, a Tim Burton film, “Dark Shadows” will be distributed worldwide in theatres and IMAX by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, and in select territories by Village Roadshow Pictures.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
“One thing you should know about the Collins family… we endure.”
A reluctant vampire with an irresistible allure. A mysterious ingénue, who is inexorably drawn to him. A jealous vixen, who is both seductress and sorceress. A strange family in a creepy old mansion, with secrets around every corner.
These were some of the hallmarks of a hugely popular series in the late 1960s that broke the mold of daytime television. In an era already marked by tremendous upheaval, “Dark Shadows” shook up the soap opera status quo with its unique blend of gothic mystery, romance and melodrama. Suddenly, young people were racing home from school to follow the strange twists and turns of the Collins family. Without DVRs, or even VCRs, to record missed episodes, “Dark Shadows” became the definition of “appointment television” for a generation of devoted fans, for whom it remains a cult favorite.
One of the series’ aficionados was Tim Burton, who grew up to break a few molds himself as a filmmaker renowned for his singularly imaginative style. He offers, “The show had a specific vibe. It was a soap opera, but with a weird, supernatural undercurrent.”
Johnny Depp, who stars as Barnabas Collins, recalls, “There was nothing like it, certainly not in the daytime, with its vampires and ghosts and witches. I’ve always been attracted to that genre, even as a very young kid, so when I got a hold of ‘Dark Shadows,’ I didn’t let go.”
Depp might be speaking literally. Decades later, he is not only playing the film’s central role but also producing the movie, with Richard D. Zanuck, Graham King, Christi Dembrowski and David Kennedy. “Dark Shadows” also marks his eighth collaboration with director Tim Burton, continuing their remarkable cinematic partnership. “Obviously, the one person who immediately came to mind to bring this project to life was Tim,” Depp states. “He became really pumped up about it as we began to develop it.”
“Johnny always puts 100 percent into everything he does, and I could tell right away he had a passion for this,” says Burton. “I was excited to see where we could go with the story, and I knew it would be a lot of fun.”
Producer Richard D. Zanuck, who has been working with the director for more than ten years, relates, “Tim Burton is probably the main reason I’m still making movies today. He is an artist in the truest sense—a great technician with a spectacularly colorful imagination, and he is able to translate that to the screen with his own signature approach.”
In bringing “Dark Shadows” to the big screen, Burton was keen to retain the spirit of the show, while recognizing “it’s a hard thing to try to capture. It’s not something you can remake exactly because there were more than 1200 episodes and there was such an elusive tone to it, but it was always our inspiration.”
Nevertheless, producer Graham King emphasizes that you don’t have to have been a follower of the show—or even be old enough to remember it—to enjoy the film. “We know there are still a lot of ‘Dark Shadows’ fans out there, Tim and Johnny among them. So we always wanted to be respectful of the series, but the movie was obviously made for today’s audiences, so, with the added layer of Tim’s magical direction, it stands on its own. It’s big in scope with some outrageous characters, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s funny and quirky as hell.”
Christi Dembrowski adds, “I knew that Johnny and Tim would create a new life for ‘Dark Shadows’ and bring the magic back in their own unique way. I think this version is something the original fans will appreciate, while it introduces a whole new audience to the characters we loved.”
Producer David Kennedy had been partnered with the series’ creator, the late Dan Curtis, years after the show wrapped, and Curtis would come to entrust Kennedy with perhaps his most inventive creation. Kennedy reveals that the satirical bent in Burton’s new incarnation of “Dark Shadows” was always part of Curtis’s vision. “When Tim and Johnny talked about what they wanted to do with ‘Dark Shadows,’ they had such a sense of fun that I just knew it was in the right hands. I honestly don’t think the movie could ever have happened without them, and also Christi.”
He continues, “I’m sure there are going to be hardcore ‘Dark Shadows’ fans who are going to say that the original series didn’t have that much humor in it. And it didn’t. But Dan always wanted it to, and I think he’d be really happy with where we ended up. For me personally, it’s a dream come true.”
Being a part of “Dark Shadows” was also a dream come true for star Michelle Pfeiffer, a self-described “diehard follower” of the series. “I was obsessed,” she nods. “It was the first vampire show ever on television. My mother probably assumed, given that it was on in the afternoon, it was safe for me to be watching, but I always felt like I was somehow breaking the rules because it was quite terrifying and sexy, too, especially for that time.”
Helena Bonham Carter recalls, “During filming, Michelle had the show on a 24-hour-loop in makeup, so I could see it was very original for its day. But it’s hard now to imagine Tim and Johnny being scared by that,” she laughs.
In writing the screenplay, Seth Grahame-Smith, who also crafted the story with John August, says, “We wanted to make sure there were moments of real fright, as well as romance, lust and comedy. To me, the fun was in weaving in those elements of humor and horror.”
Much of the humor arises out of the fish-out-of-water circumstance of Barnabas Collins, an 18th-century lothario who breaks the heart of a heartless witch by the name of Angelique. When Barnabas declares his love for another, the ethereal Josette, Angelique exacts her revenge on both of them: taking Josette’s life while giving Barnabas an eternal one as a vampire. It’s not much of a life, however, as she proceeds to bury him in a coffin forever…or at least the foreseeable future.
Nearly 200 years later, Barnabas is released from his would-be tomb by a rather unfortunate team of construction workers. The world of 1972 is, of course, markedly different from the one Barnabas left. “It sparked a whole series of ideas,” says Depp. “The thought of this very elegant man of the 1700s, having been cursed and locked away for 200 years, coming back to 1972—maybe the worst time, aesthetically, in human existence, where people accepted everything from ugly little troll dolls to macramé jewelry and resin grapes to lava lamps. We thought what a great way to incorporate this vampire being the eyes that we never had back then, the eyes that can see the absurdity in those things.”
Burton, who was a teenager in the 1970s, agrees, adding, “It was not so much making fun of the time, just seeing things from a different perspective. When you think of mood rings and Pet Rocks… I suppose you could find peculiar things in any era but, looking back on that stuff, as eras go, that one does seem stranger than most.”
A stranger in a strange era, Barnabas returns to the one place he knows: the once-grand Collinwood Manor. He finds the mansion in dreadful disrepair and his few remaining relatives equally fractured. Burton says, “It all boiled down to trying to capture the dynamics of this family, who happen to be a little out of the ordinary. I mean, there’s a certain internal dynamic that occurs in any family, and that was something that interested me.”
“His name was Barnabas Collins, and he was
the finest man this family ever knew.”
The role of vampire Barnabas Collins was conceived by Dan Curtis and famously originated by Jonathan Frid. Introduced almost a full year after the series’ debut, the character quickly caused the ratings to soar and came to define the show.
“Barnabas was a groundbreaking character—a protagonist who is a vampire,” says Grahame-Smith. “While that may not seem so strange to us nowadays, in the late `60s it was unbelievably bizarre.”
Interestingly, years before Burton’s film version of “Dark Shadows” became a reality, Johnny Depp had been hand-picked to assume the role of Barnabas by the series creator. Curtis, together with David Kennedy, had long wanted to bring the series to the big screen and, in the mid-2000s, approached Depp with the idea of a film, starring the actor as Barnabas.
Depp says he was “honored that Dan saw me for the role of Barnabas Collins,” also revealing that his portrayal pays homage to the actor who first played the role. “Every angle I tried, I kept coming back to Jonathan Frid’s iconic performance. He did something striking with that character, so my Barnabas is largely based on his, with a few other ingredients thrown in and slightly more flowery language…a little bit more of a vocal style in terms of enunciation.”
For Burton, one of the joys of working with Depp is the actor’s ability to push himself. “Johnny is willing to try anything. He’s always coming up with new things, which we both enjoy. So every time we work together is different, and that’s what keeps it fun and fresh.”
Zanuck observes, “Each collaboration between the two of them is quite amazing—Tim comes up with these incredible ideas and Johnny translates them on the screen. They know each other so well, Johnny can tell by Tim’s expression whether he likes something, or Tim will say one or two things and Johnny will immediately get what Tim wants.”
Makeup artist Joel Harlow was responsible for transforming Depp into Barnabas, working closely with the actor and Burton to form the character’s distinct visage. They went through a number of makeup tests before finding the perfect pallor for the undead but still strangely handsome personage. It required coat after coat of customized grease paint to give Barnabas his chalky complexion. “When you saw him on the set or in the monitor, he looked white,” says Harlow. “But there was a vast number of colors in that makeup blend.” To contrast with the pale skin, Harlow ringed Depp’s eyes with darker circles and hollowed out his cheeks to make Barnabas look more cadaverous.
A vampire’s most distinctive trait is his fangs, and Depp had several choices with which to work. Harlow details, “We had some that were curved and others that were straight, one short set and one longer one. We even had a set that were more like rattlesnake fangs, which came down from behind the teeth. We also had a set that were activated by the way Depp opened his mouth; the fangs would drop down into place.”
Another of Barnabas’ sharpest features were his pointed fingernails tipping elongated fingers. Burton comments, “There was something about the fingers that was important to me, just the way a vampire touches things. I think it also helped with the emotional quality of the character’s expression.”
“Tim wanted Barnabas to be ‘tactile,’” Harlow elaborates. “His hands sort of lead the way, like they’re feeling things out. That may seem like a very easy thing to do, but it’s actually quite complicated because it had to look slim and seamless, but when you add anything to a finger, you’re adding bulk. It also had to be rigid enough so they didn’t bend when he touches things, because that would blow the illusion instantly.”
“The hands really helped make the character,” notes Depp, “although I had to learn how to touch things or pick things up about three inches from where my fingers actually were. It took a little while but I got used to it, and it completed the look.”
Graham King says, “Johnny just dove into this role; you could see his commitment in the hours and hours of hair and makeup he had to go through every day, as well as in his performance. Barnabas says and does some pretty outlandish things, but Johnny’s delivery is totally straight-faced as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. No one does these kinds of characters better than he.”
“Family is the only real wealth.”
When Barnabas returns to Collinwood Manor, the only person who knows his true identity—and the fact that he is now a vampire—is matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. Telling the family he’s a distant relative, she attributes his rather odd behavior to the fact that he’s from England.
“I think Barnabas finds a kindred spirit in Elizabeth,” says Depp, “because she has tried to uphold the family name and is as dedicated as he is to restoring them to their previous stature.”
Michelle Pfeiffer, who stars as Elizabeth, adds, “Keeping up appearances is very important to her. She’s very proud and protective of the Collins name despite the fact that they have fallen on hard times. They are also rather weird, but I don’t think any of them realizes just how weird they are.”
Pfeiffer reveals that when she heard Tim Burton was planning a film version of her onetime favorite show, “I got so excited, I did something I never do: I called him about a part in the movie. There was no script at that point and I said, ‘I don’t know if there’s anything remotely right for me in this, but I want you to know I’m a huge fan of this show’. I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t because I really wanted to do this.”
Burton, who had directed Pfeiffer 20 years ago in “Batman Returns,” says, “I was thrilled to get her for the role of Elizabeth because she was truly into this project and could be absolutely real within that unreal world. And she was perfect to play the head of this family because the younger actors all looked up to her.”
While Elizabeth is desperately trying to hold the Collins family up, there is someone else intent on sinking it: a witch named Angelique Bouchard, better known in the 20th century as Angie. “A long time ago, Angelique felt spurned by Barnabas and never got over it,” Burton explains. “We’ve all had relationships like that, where it’s hard to let go, but she does that in the extreme, even through the centuries.”
Eva Green stars as the woman who knows how to hold a grudge. “Everything is magnified with her—her pain, her desire, her vengeance,” the actress remarks. “It’s such an outrageous character, but I don’t see her as necessarily evil. Her heart was broken, and when Barnabas re-emerges, it’s overwhelming for Angelique. She’s at the height of her power and yet she’s very vulnerable because Barnabas is her weak point. She’s convinced he loves her as much as she loves him, but he won’t admit it. She wants to own him, to possess every bit of him.”
“Eva was the first person that came to my mind for Angelique,” Burton offers. “I was so happy to have her in the role because she ended up bringing much more to it than even I imagined. She had great ideas, was real fun to work with and surprised me every day.”
“I’ve always been a fan of Tim’s,” Green says. “He’s so creative, but also open to suggestions, which is wonderful for an actor. We had the same understanding of Angelique’s character. He never treated her like a one-dimensional villain; he got her pain.”
Angelique is a woman who has changed with the times. During the 18th century, Angelique was a dark-haired servant girl. As Angie, the CEO of Angel Bay, she’s a successful blonde businesswoman. “Tim wanted her to look like the American dream,” says Green. “Everything about her is perfect. Too perfect. Perfect makeup, red lips, platinum hair. She’s very glamorous yet sophisticated. But, little by little, from the moment Barnabas escapes from his tomb, her facade starts to crack.”
Making matters worse for Angelique, it almost seems as if she has lost Barnabas to the same woman…twice. The Collins’ new governess, Victoria Winters, looks astonishingly like Barnabas’ beloved Josette DuPres, the woman who won his heart two centuries ago but tragically paid for it with her life.
“The instant Barnabas sees Victoria, that old love is reawakened at once,” says Grahame-Smith. “And Vicky, for her part, can’t explain why she feels strangely drawn to him. She feels at home with Barnabas almost immediately.”
When Victoria arrives in Collinsport, we sense she’s fleeing from something in her past. “She is definitely carrying a lot of baggage that she’s trying to hide,” confirms Bella Heathcote, who was cast in the dual roles of Josette and Victoria. “She’s quite protective of herself and isn’t as ready to give her heart as willingly as we see Josette do. She’s far more closed off in all aspects of her life, and we learn she has reason to be.”
Burton allows, “It’s obvious that Victoria is withholding secrets of her own, and Bella has got a certain quality that fit very well into that role. There’s a mystery about her, something you can’t really put into words, but right away I saw Bella as Victoria.”
There is another woman residing at Collinwood who is drawn to Barnabas, albeit for professional reasons. Helena Bonham Carter plays Dr. Julia Hoffman, a psychiatrist who was hired to treat the youngest member of the Collins family, David, following the untimely death of his mother. She was supposed to be there a month. That was three years ago. Dr. Hoffman has since taken up permanent residence in the manor, where she has an unlimited supply of spirits—the liquid kind.
Bonham Carter says, “She may have just reached the point where she’s overstayed her welcome. Then, into this household, comes this really curious character, Barnabas, this so-called distant relation. Dr. Hoffman prides herself on seeing through people. She’s instantly suspicious, quite rightly, that he’s not who he says he is.”
“Helena is a bit younger than the original character,” Burton points out, “but she actually has a certain look that I felt was strangely similar. I don’t know how flattered she was to be offered the role of an aging, alcoholic psychiatrist, but somebody’s got to do it, right?” he laughs.
“I thought he might offer me the part of the sexy witch, until he said he saw me as Dr. Hoffman, which was…um…interesting,” she teases. “But it’s a great part, and her look is hilarious, with the bright orange hair and those ridiculous eyelashes. I genuinely loved the character, so how could I not say yes.”
Dr. Hoffman is not the only person in the Collins’ employ with a penchant for alcohol. Jackie Earle Haley was cast as the Collinwood caretaker, Willie Loomis, who has the impossible job of singlehandedly trying to keep up the aging mansion…so, in fact, he doesn’t.
“I had always wanted to work with Jackie,” says Burton, “and this was the perfect opportunity. He is so funny, and he just felt very much like a part of the ‘Dark Shadows’ world.”
Describing his character, Haley says, “Willie is kind of a curmudgeon; he couldn’t care less about anything at this point. In an odd way, I think Willie enjoys the dysfunction that defines the Collins family; they bicker about everything. They live in this gorgeous but decrepit old mansion, and pretend to still be rich nobility. And Willie is more than happy to pretend to be their servant. As long as he gets a cot and a few squares a day and a safe place to drink, he’s just fine. But then Barnabas shows up and gives Willie a new purpose. It’s a cool dynamic.”
One person in the Collins household who wants nothing to do with her long-lost relative is Elizabeth’s 15-year-old daughter, Carolyn Stoddard, played by Chloë Grace Moretz. Carolyn’s first impression of Barnabas is that he is, in a word, “weird.” And when he seeks out her advice on how to woo a woman of the modern age, namely Victoria, their conversation only serves to reinforce that assessment.
Moretz offers, “My character is a very eccentric teenager of the `70s. She wants to be so different from the rest of the family. As soon as she turns 16 she plans to live in New York and be who she wants to be.”
“Chloë latched right onto that troubled teenager thing, which I don’t think she is, but she did it really, really well,” Burton declares. “She tapped into that internal anger and the feeling like you’re alone and isolated—that strange transitory time when you’re changing from a kid into something else.”
Carolyn’s younger cousin, David, does not share her opinion of Barnabas. Without knowing why, the 10-year-old feels a kinship with his English relative, perhaps because Barnabas is the only one who doesn’t judge David when he claims to talk to the spirit of his deceased mother.
Cast in the role of David, Gully McGrath says, “He has always felt like he was alone, because everybody’s treated him like he’s crazy. They don’t believe he has a psychic connection with his mother’s ghost and that she’s been watching over him even though she’s dead.”
“Gully looks like a kid who might see ghosts,” Burton asserts. “He has that kind of demeanor. That’s not something you can tell an actor; it’s something they just need to have in their being.”
David is not helped by the fact that his father, Roger Collins, is a complete narcissist who seems to have little interest in his son. “He’s quite a vacuous human being,” admits Jonny Lee Miller, who plays the part of Roger. “I think he might once have been a loving father, but his wife passed away, and since then, he’s never really been the same. Basically, he’s not a very nice piece of work.”
“Roger’s the black sheep of the family,” adds Burton. “His back story has its share of tragedy—he lost his wife and now his son sees ghosts—but he’s still a bit of a sleazeball. He’s got that swinging `70s thing going on. He’s probably the one guy who is really into that time: the women, the fashions, the wide lapels,” he grins. “Jonny clicked into that attitude right away.”
With no rehearsal time prior to the start of principal photography, Burton found a way to put his entire main cast in the mindset of their respective roles. He gathered them together on the set for a photo session in which they replicated a famous image of the original television cast, all standing in the foyer of Collinwood Manor.
Burton recounts, “The day before shooting, we had everyone get into costume, and recreated that photo. It was amazing. In about 30 seconds, people found their characters. It was a good way of getting everybody into the same vibe.”
Reveal yourself, tiny songstress!
The cast of “Dark Shadows” also includes cameos by some familiar stars. One pivotal scene features Christopher Lee, who has worked in four Tim Burton films. In this movie he plays local fisherman Silas Clarney, who ends up on the hook of Barnabas’ hypnotic powers. Depp says, “Christopher Lee is not only one of my great acting heroes, he’s also someone I consider a friend and mentor, so it was wonderful that we got him for this role.”
As Barnabas’ powers of persuasion begin to restore the family’s fortunes, he decides it’s time to celebrate with a grand ball, or rather, in the parlance of the day, a “Happening.” The Grand Foyer of Collinwood is transformed into a pulsating disco, complete with a mirror ball and strobe lights and cage dancers.
The entire population of Collinsport turns out for the party, including four guests making a return to Collinwood Manor after a long absence: Jonathan Frid, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and David Selby, all favorite cast members from the series. “It was such a kick to have them there,” Burton states. “Everyone wanted their photo taken with them. Just to have them come bless the set, so to speak, seemed appropriate.”
The Happening also features a live performance by rock legend Alice Cooper, who turns out not to be the kind of “Alice” that Barnabas is expecting.
Burton says, “Alice Cooper was very much of that period, and he just fit the tone of the film. The scary thing is, he looks exactly the same now as he did then. In fact, we had a copy of Rolling Stone with him on the cover from that time and I think he might actually look better now. It’s really, really strange,” he deadpans.
Cooper was happy to revisit the `70s and to have the chance to work with Burton and Depp. “I’ve always been a fan of Tim’s,” he says. “He and I have kind of the same background; we enjoy all the same horror movies. And I’ve always admired Johnny as the man of 1,000 faces. I don’t know anyone who does that as well as he does.”
At The Happening, Cooper performs his hits “Ballad of Dwight Fry” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” Burton also incorporated other classic songs from the decade in the “Dark Shadows” soundtrack, including the Moody Blues’ “Knights in White Satin,” Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly,” Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” and the Carpenters’ “Top of the World.”
“It’s an amazing collection of music,” Zanuck says. “Danny Elfman composed a terrific score, and the source pieces played an equally crucial role. They help establish the time frame and also express the feeling Tim wanted to convey.”
Danny Elfman expands, “I knew that the bigger, dramatic scenes would be underscored in a rather theatrical manner, but the real treat was tapping into the retro musical palette Tim had imagined. He wanted a sound that was evocative of both the original TV series, as well as `70s-era horror films. For that we kept it minimal, eerie, and atmospheric, with only electronics and a few solo instruments carrying the melodies.”
“Welcome to Collinwood. You’ll have to
imagine us on a better day.”
The sets and costumes in “Dark Shadows” transition between two different centuries, with most of them being accomplished practically instead of with visual effects. Burton comments, “After working on ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ on green screen, it was nice to work with physical sets again. Feeling the textures of the rooms were important, not just for me but for the actors.”
Production designer Rick Heinrichs attests, “Tim is always talking about the feeling of the movie, and speaks in terms of emotional elements. It’s as if he’s talking about one of his characters.”
At the center of the story are the vestiges of the Collins family empire: the town of Collinsport and the ancestral home of Collinwood. Both sets were daunting not just in terms of scale but because each would be required to go through numerous metamorphoses over the course of the film.
“First we see Collinsport as a virgin shoreline of Maine, being discovered by the Collins family. Later we see its development into a bustling town and fishing concern,” explains Heinrichs. “We watch the Collinwood mansion raised at the height of the family’s power, then in a state of decay two centuries later, and then we see it brought back to life after its renovation. It was especially challenging because some days you’re shooting 1972, and some days you’re shooting the 1750s.”
For Collinsport, the filmmakers’ initial thought was to find an existing fishing village either in the UK or Maine itself. Heinrichs says, “We looked at photographs; we scouted around the UK., but it was clear there wasn’t a coastal village that would give us what we needed. There were so many very specific aesthetics to it, I realized we were going to have to build this.”
Heinrichs and his team constructed Collinsport, circa 1972, from scratch on the backlot at Pinewood Studios, utilizing the studios’ massive paddock tank and pre-existing green screen. “It allowed us to have exactly what we wanted in a very controlled situation,” he says.
A key component in the design of Collinsport was the two opposing canneries: Angel Bay, a collection of red and white wooden buildings on one side of the harbor, directly across the water from the dilapidated Collins Cannery, which we see restored over the course of the film.
The cannery buildings were not empty facades; they had working equipment that was obtained from actual canning companies. The offices of Angel Bay were built at Pinewood, including Angie’s personal office, which showcases portraits of Bouchard women through the ages…all noticeably with the same likeness. The office was also the site of a particularly physical encounter between Barnabas and Angelique.
The actors worked with stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart for the sequence, which required them to wear wire harnesses that enabled them to spin though the air. Eva Green admits, “Being on wires is not my favorite thing because I’m afraid of heights. But I would do anything for Tim.”
Away from the water, were a series of streets with a variety of shops and buildings, including The Blue Whale Tavern, an appliance store, nautical supply shops, clothing stores, a Lobster Shack, a taxidermist, and even a movie theatre, showing, variously, “Deliverance,” “A Clockwork Orange,” and “Super Fly.”
“It was extraordinary,” Michelle Pfeiffer recalls. “I could imagine staying there for a couple of days in a bed and breakfast. Truly, that was one of the most impressive sets I’ve ever seen.”
Graham King agrees. “The world Rick and his team realized on that backlot was phenomenal, right down to the smallest detail. Walking through the streets, it just transported you to that time and place. It felt completely real.”
High on a hill overlooking the town sits Collinwood Manor. In designing the exterior of the mansion, Burton and Heinrichs took inspiration from the one in the TV series, a real house in Newport, Rhode Island. Burton notes, “Overall, our house is grander, but it definitely evokes the original.”
“We had to develop the Manor for our own purposes,” Heinrichs adds. “However, fans of the show will notice certain nods to the architecture of the original, in particular the central turret. The house had to express all of the elements of creepiness, combined with old world charm and faded glory.”
A single-story facade of Collinwood was built in a pine forest in Bourne Woods, Surrey, complete with courtyard and water fountain, as well as an exterior wall running 300 feet in length. “We wanted the kind of scope to the manor that you get by shooting on the location,” Heinrichs asserts. “It was a bit of a challenge, but was well worth it, given the fact we were able to show such a vast amount of set. The rest of it was extended with visual effects.”
In addition to the one-story high structure, a complete Collinwood Manor was constructed as a one-third scale “miniature,” measuring 33 feet in height.
All the interiors were constructed on soundstages at Pinewood. “We wanted it to feel like a grand house fallen on hard times,” Heinrichs suggests. “To achieve that we did a great deal of detail carving within the house. The first time Barnabas enters, he’s caressing the sculptures and touching things and commenting on the fine craftsmanship that went into it. So to live up to his words, we put a lot of effort into creating a beautiful and richly detailed environment for him.”
Given Collinwood’s proximity to the sea and the family’s background in fishing, Heinrichs designed the mansion, inside and out, to reflect that maritime heritage, with fish, mermaids, and ocean motifs present throughout the house and its furnishings, including seahorses in the fireplace along with statues of Neptune and his nautical ilk.
One major interior set was the Grand Foyer, which featured a wave-like tile pattern on the floor, a magnificent crystal chandelier, and half a dozen painted portraits of the Collins family down the centuries, including Barnabas and his parents.
“It was a space that had to say a certain number of things about the family, giving us a sense of rich detail and a sense of drama,” Heinrichs emphasizes. “When we first meet Elizabeth she appears at the top of the stairs, silhouetted by the huge window behind her. It’s a very theatrical entrance, and the whole back of the set was designed around that concept.”
One room at Collinwood features a hidden vault, known only to Barnabas, accessible via a secret entrance hidden behind the fireplace in the drawing room which actually worked. At the push of a button, the mantle shifts and the fireplace moves back as the hearth stones sink, forming steps down to the passageway below.
Heinrichs also designed various bedroom sets, including a hexagonal-shaped one for Carolyn with shag pile carpet and purple walls lined with posters of artists like Iggy Pop, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, T. Rex and Alice Cooper. The designer illustrates, “Each room had to say something about the characters inhabiting it. I wanted Carolyn’s bedroom to feel elevated because that was a place a teenager would want to go. It felt right that she was at the top of the turret, central to the entrance of the house.”
Chloë Grace Moretz remembers, “I came in one day and Tim asked, ‘Do you want to go see your room?’ I walked up the stairs and it’s this amazing attic, with wooden purple beams, yellow shag carpet, bean bags and a record player and all this amazing stuff. I wanted to live there.”
Visually, Burton wanted “Dark Shadows” to reflect the decade in which it’s set, and showed director of photography Bruno Delbonnel several classic vampire movies from the period. Burton says, “We talked about the look of them, the feel of the color scheme. I really enjoyed working with Bruno. He was always trying to go from a character standpoint, and not only from a look standpoint.”
When it came to dressing and styling two centuries of fashion, Burton called upon costume designer Colleen Atwood. “I’ve worked with Colleen many times,” says Burton. “For me, she is a real artist, in the sense she tries to get into the character, whether she’s doing a complete fantasy or tapping into reality. We were trying to be true to the spirit of what the costumes were, without treating them like a joke, because the fashion is extreme. Again, it was very important because it’s all through Barnabas’ eyes, and you wanted to be able to feel the textures and get the style of that era as strongly as you can.”
Atwood says, “I started first with the 18th-century research because it takes longer to find the materials. Then I overlaid the two periods to find similarities between them, and incorporated things from both to make it work.”
“Colleen’s approach to every character was right on the money,” states Depp. “The second you put on the costume, you stand differently. I found the character on a whole other level once the wardrobe came into play.”
In designing Barnabas’ costumes, Atwood was keen to carry the resplendent, Goth feel of his 18th-century attire in his `70s wardrobe. “I wanted to retain the elegance of the earlier times,” she expounds. “Barnabas’ cape coat is a nod to the character’s coat from the original series, but I changed it up a little. It’s a stronger silhouette.”
For the spirit of Josette, Atwood designed a dress that was a replica of an 18th-century costume, made from nylon printed with a layer of aluminum and adorned with ribbons that fluttered in the wind. It also turned out to look great underwater, which was important because, to create a ghostly quality, Burton shot Heathcote in the underwater tank at Pinewood. The visual effects team then removed the water.
Atwood reveals, “We made the costume way before we knew it was going to end up submerged. I knew light played amazing on it and it looked cool in the wind, but it’s serendipitous that it also worked in water.”
For the 20th-century Angelique, Atwood wanted to reflect the strength of the character and took inspiration from a line in the script that described her as having “stepped out of a Virginia Slims ad.” She notes, “I stuck fairly close to that, designing for a modern woman even though she was an old soul. Her clothes were tailored, very operable in a man’s world and also strong in shape. They’re sexy, but tailored sexy.”
For some of the cast, the `70s fashions were a return to the good old days. “I grew up in the 1970s, so the costumes were incredibly nostalgic,” says Jackie Earle Haley. “I’m all for it if anybody wants to bring bellbottoms back.”
The production was nostalgic for a number of the filmmakers and cast, especially those who have fond memories of the film’s roots.
David Kennedy attests, “They pay homage to the series, but at the same time, they put together something totally original.”
“It was done with great respect for the series and for Dan Curtis,” Depp affirms. “I hope die-hard fans will love it because you don’t get more die-hard than myself, Michelle or Tim.”
Burton reflects, “I wanted to straddle the line between the old and the new to concoct something fun for both generations. Times have changed, but I think these characters are timeless.”