Another magnificent Johnny Depp turn, another gorgeous-looking fantasy film from Tim Burton. Their eighth partnership together, based on a little-known American ’60s daytime TV show, may not be their best, but it is funny, creepy and a whole lot of fun.

On a glorious roll, Depp camps it up again to the hilt and way beyond in yet another mascara and makeup role – well, what the world coming to if a man can’t enjoy his hobbies in public? – as the doomed 18th-century vampire Barnabas Collins, buried alive in 1750 by vengeful evil witch Angelique (Eva Green) but accidentally awakened from his tomb by workmen in the changed world of 1972, where troll dolls, macramé jewellery, resin grapes and lava lamps are the height of sophistication. (Cue loads of laughs at the expense of the hippy era and, in one of the best scenes, at the expense of hippies.)

Returning to his ancient crumbling pile, Collinwood Manor, Barnabas finds the remnants of his family have become hilariously dysfunctional, needing the help of an in-house psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter). The blockbuster bloodsucker (try saying that) entrusts the secret of his identity to stern family matriarch Michelle Pfeiffer, but the family become understandably a bit suspicious, what with his crazy look and weird way of talking. But what the heck?, it’s the seventies and anything goes…

However, there’s a couple of another real odd problems for Barnabas in the shape of (1) gorgeous town vampire Angie (Eva Green), an uncanny lookalike for Angelique, who wants her wicked way with Barnabas, and (2) the cute family nanny (Bella Heathcote), mysteriously the mirror image of Barnabas’s one true love, Josette, who Angelique has tipped over the cliff to her death back in 1750.

It’s satisfying that the movie’s more or less exactly what you’d expect. Depp commands the screen in an exceptionally warm and appealing performance that gets all the laughs that the script allows and quite a few more. Make no mistake, it’s a big fat star vehicle, and he makes it the Depp show all the way. Heeeeere’s Johnny, and of course everybody loves him.

The other star is director Burton, whose eye for a great shot is impeccable – the visuals are stunning, making the movie clearly a  abour-of-love and a work of art. Oscar-winning production and costumes designers are on board to ensure the film’s dressed to kill. And Danny Elfman’s soupy score is spot-on, with 70s tunes beefing up the atmosphere and the laughs. (Were the ’70s quite as crap as this? Maybe they were – but at least they have the reputation of being a time of fine movies.)

That’s the good stuff. Unfortunately, the film has its share of problems, but then which films don’t? The main one lies with the script, which takes too long to get cracking, then has a highly satisfying central hour or so being expertly funny in best Addams Family style, but finally spends far too long resolving its silly, flimsy story with endless climaxes and special effects. One character suddenly becomes a werewolf for no apparent reason, other than that being a fun idea needing effects, then that’s that.

The dad (Johnny Lee Miller) deserts his precocious 10-year-old son (Gully McGrath), then that’s that. Bonham Carter disappears from view. Pfeiffer has a lot of screen time but doesn’t have much to do. The script just isn’t able to pull its characters together.

Too many characters maybe, or just too clumsy hands on the computer.

There’s a better film here begging to get out, and, as it sets up a sequel at the end, I hope they manage to make it one day. Yet Depp (who must be actually drinking blood to look this young at nearly 50) keeps this one firmly together, Eva Green vamps impressively, Alice Cooper appears triumphantly, the laughs come easily and the 113 minutes speed by very pleasantly indeed.

Verdict: suck it and see! 3/5

Derek Winnert (c) 2012