Tim Burton’s latest offering, Dark Shadows, comes out in May and the new trailer suggests a sprinkling of comedy amongst the usual doses of pasty skin and Gothic gloom. Based on a TV show few have heard of, Burton’s surprised no-one by re-teaming with Johnny Depp, who’s perhaps aiming to restore his acting credibility.
After several years paying the bills by repeatedly playing a whacky pirate and sharing the screen three times with Orlando Bloom, Depp is perhaps seizing the chance to rebuild his reputation.
You have to wonder about the production process that keeps reuniting Burton with Depp and Gothic horror. From Dark Shadows and Sweeney Todd back to Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands, the filmmaker seems most at ease when he’s unburdened by primary colours and he can give Depp a weird name (Ichabod Crane, anyone?).
My own theory is that Burton lives his reclusive life in a controlled Gothic environment. Think Seahaven in The Truman Show, only the homes are all decrepit and monochrome, and occupied by not-quite-scary Halloween puppets that perform eccentric vaudeville musical numbers on cue. Rejects from Corpse Bride, perhaps? And of course Johnny Depp is worshipped as a life-giving deity.
Burton spends his nights sleeping in a giant plaster cast of Depp’s naval in a huge Gothic building known locally as Helena Bonham Castle. He wears his trademark blue sunglasses permanently attached to help ward off the primary colours that sometimes seep into his little Gothic world.
The only media he can access comes from a small, 12-inch black-and-white TV screen that plays re-runs of Vincent Price movies and The Munsters on a loop. He watches every night transfixed and wide-eyed as he scribbles frantic, spidery notes for his next screenplay with his favourite quill.
Everything changes when the world’s techie overlords make a mistake and The Munsters is suddenly interrupted by coverage of the Academy Awards. Burton realises in Gothic shock (a theatrical snarl and hands over his eyes?) that Johnny Depp is not the Only Actor In The World.
The filmmaker grabs his cloak and climbs, grunting, to the tallest spire of the town cathedral as wolves howl and disturbed bats flutter around his wild mop of black hair. He turns and cries out as he notices for the first time that the town below is laid out in the shape of Johnny Depp’s face.
He shakes his fist at the moon and cries: “Curse you Johnny! Curse you! You charmed me with your rugged good looks, your baggy jeans and the battered fedoras that belie your top tax-bracket financial status. The studio bosses told me you were the Only One – how could you pedal such a lie!
“I just saw the Academy Awards, Johnny! I saw the light and it’s a place called California. There are pretty houses, a bunch of different people who get paid to act and there are other colours too, like red, green and orange. I’m going to make a film all about the colour orange, Johnny! There won’t be a monochrome frame in sight! Do you hear me??
“Goth will always hold a special place in my heart, Johnny, but I want a bit of variety. Maybe I’ll make a romantic comedy! I’ll cast Ryan Reynolds and Rooney Mara and watch the romance blossom as they spend a weekend in a haunted mansion – dammit, that’s Gothic horror again!”
Burton sighs deeply and gazes out across the Gothic landscape, peppered with cartoony graveyards, dead trees and reanimated dancing skeletons in bowler hats. Maybe he should just accept his fate. He does good work, on the most part. It’s just that it’s all a bit, well, similar. Scorsese had the same thing going with gangsters. But then he made Hugo and that helped balance things out a bit.
The director trudges back down the black stone steps of the cathedral and heads towards Helena Bonham Castle. He silently resolves to get himself a proper pen and brainstorm ideas for a story where there’s a lot of orange and maybe some green. Monochrome might make a cameo and who’s he kidding? Perhaps Johnny Depp could do the voiceover for a small, neurotic animated spider. There is, after all, always room for Johnny.