In "When Panthers Roamed in Arkansas," a 1997 recording, folk singer Kate Campbell croons: "Every afternoon I'd watch 'Dark Shadows' on TV/ Scared to death that Barnabas would take a bite of me."
She wasn't the only one.
Like the pointed teeth of Barnabas Collins, the program's undead antihero, "Dark Shadows" left a mark on the innocents who fell under its spell.
I was among the kids with vampiric indentations -- from the Latin "dentatus," or "toothed" -- on my brain if not my throat. Once I discovered "Dark Shadows," the Gothic weekday soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971 on ABC, I raced home to the television every day after school, usually arriving just before the first commercial break, hoping I hadn't missed any vampire or werewolf action.
Tim Burton also was a child "Dark Shadows" devotee, according to interviews. Even so, the director apparently was not interested in carving a straight horror-romance from the soap that inspired a still-active cult and that transformed courtly Barnabas into a global pop-culture icon -- a tragic romantic vampire whose plight provided the template if not the platelets for the sexed-up, love-tossed neck-chewers of "Twilight" and "True Blood."
Instead, Burton's new feature-film revamp (pun intended), simply titled "Dark Shadows," has taken the easy if not necessarily unwise route of transforming the strange Bram Stoker-in-Peyton Place source material into both an affectionate spoof and another of the director's "eccentric outsider" collaborations with Johnny Depp.
Together, actor and auteur add Barnabas Collins to a portrait gallery that includes Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands, Ichabod Crane and Sweeney Todd. Although imperfect, the result may be Burton's most personal project in years -- a film that seems motivated by genuine identification with the "Dark Shadows" theme, and not by a desire to impose the Burton brand on such presold titles as "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and "Alice in Wonderland."
Because actor Jonathan Frid, the original Barnabas, died April 13 at age 87, the new "Dark Shadows" is something of a memorial as well as an homage. Frid has a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo during the movie's party scene, along with original "Dark Shadows" co-stars Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby and Lara Parker, who portrayed sexy Angelique, the witch. The new Angelique is Eva Green, who has the curves for the role but trades Parker's crafty intensity for a sassy liberated-woman confidence appropriate to the film's setting of 1972, the year Ms. magazine debuted on newsstands.
The decade is evoked mainly through costume and sound design. Yes, "Dark Shadows" contains moments of genius, but most of these are borrowed and confined to the soundtrack, as when Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" briefly becomes a theme for the resurrected Barnabas, whose natty cape, Nosferatu nails and wolf's-head cane admittedly would not be out of place at the Players Ball.
Meanwhile, 15-year-old Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Grace Moretz), the sulkiest resident of spooky Collinwood mansion, favors Bowie and T. Rex, and dances languidly to Donovan -- "Season of the Witch," of course.
That song's trippy vibe is a perfect fit for the wonderful first act of Burton's film, which also makes apt use of the Moody Blues. The swoony, kitschy romanticism of "Nights in White Satin" complements a setup that suggests "Performance" (1972) and other films of similar vintage in which odd characters inhabit weird mansions in states of dreamlike reverie.
"Are you stoned?" Carolyn asks Barnabas; the vampire believes she's talking about a form of public execution, not recreational intoxication.
Carolyn's confusion is understandable: Although his elongated clawlike fingers are convincing and his manner is deadpan and polite, Barnabas' frequently perplexed face is intentionally cartoonish, its vampiric look achieved with the greasepaint shadows of an amateur stage production.
Scripted by Seth Grahame-Smith (the novelist known for such monster mash-ups as "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," and "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter"), "Dark Shadows" opens with an "origin story" prologue set in the 18th century. The movie then jumps ahead almost two centuries, when Barnabas -- transformed into a vampire by the jealous Angelique -- is accidentally released from his imprisonment inside a chained coffin by an unlucky construction crew.
Returning to his ancestral mansion, Collinwood, in the Maine fishing village of Collinsport, Barnabas -- passed off as a distant cousin -- is not just a big fish in the town named for his family but also a fish out of water: Most of the humor predictably but effectively contrasts his old-world mannerisms and anachronistic vocabulary with the era of hippies, TV and Alice Cooper ("Ugliest woman I've ever seen," assesses Barnabas).
Both orphan outsider and surrogate father figure, Barnabas proves to be the best thing that ever happened to Collinwood. Dressed in a sunlight-blocking black outfit copied from