Johnny Depp Takes on Barnabas Collins in the Dark Shadows of Jonathan Frid

Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Michelle Pfeiffer in the remake of Dark Shadows
Will Johnny Depp succeed in this remake or fall into the Dark Shadows of Jonathan Frid?
It’s hard to keep a good vampire down and Barnabas Collins is one of the best. Gothic soap opera, turned horror-classic, Dark Shadows, ran daily on ABC from 1966-1971 with its mega popular 200-year old vampire named Barnabas Collins, fabulously portrayed by Jonathan Frid (who passed away on April 15, 2012.) And now, coming May 11, Johnny Depp stars as his own version of Barnabas Collins in a new movie version of Dark Shadows, directed by Tim Burton, co-starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter.

Depp has a tough act to follow. Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas was so beloved that at one point he was getting 5,000 fan letters a week. Shadows fans complained bitterly once the show was taken off the air, even disrupting a taping of its replacement show—Password. Two Dark Shadows movies were made, NBC aired a short-lived revival in 1991, and in 2004, the WB filmed a pilot for another revival that didn’t make the schedule. Even after being off the airways for more than 40 years, Dark Shadows still has a cult following including its own festival (Jonathan Frid was the guest of honor in 2011), multiple fan sites, and fanzines

You have to wonder if the Twilight characters will retain their popularity to the year 2052 and beyond.

Dark Shadows TV episodes are available on DVD, but you can watch Barnabas’s first appearance on the show in the clip below. Here he pretends to be a cousin from England, instead of the 200-year-old vampire that just woke up in the family mausoleum.

What made Barnabas Collins so compelling?

Maybe it was evolution from villain and vampire to almost-hero as he struggled to save the Collins family in episode after episode, occasionally doing a really, really bad thing like trying to convince his latest girlfriend to become a vampire—which is a much bigger commitment than ’til death do we part.

Or maybe it was because his dating life was so traumatic. He even gave the witch who turned him into a vampire another chance.

Or maybe it’s just because the most interesting characters are the most complicated ones.

The Depp/Burton Dark Shadows movie may have taken the characters and part of the story from the Dark Shadows TV classic, but resemblances stop quickly. If the trailer is any indication, the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton movie will have a campy vibe closer to George Hamilton’s 1979 disco vampire spoof, Love at First Bite, than the original Dark Shadows.

It remains to be seen if hardcore fans will accept Johnny Depp as their beloved Barnabas Collins. That never seems to faze Depp who has re-interpreted beloved characters ranging from Willy Wonka to the Mad Hatter to Tonto. Depp has talked about his love for the Dark Shadows TV show in many an interview, and cites Frid as his inspiration for the movie in the interview below:

It is only fitting that Jonathan Frid has a cameo role in the new Dark Shadows movie so we’ll see him in Collinwood one more time.  

What do you think of Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins?  Do you miss Dark Shadows? Will you watch any movie starring Johnny Depp?

Author’s note: Jonathan Frid recently died of natural causes at his home in Canada at the age of 87. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

Deborah Lacy is an avid mystery reader and aspiring novelist.  You can follow her on Twitter @quippy.

Read all of Deborah Lacy’s posts for Criminal Element.


  1. Tatiana deCarillion

    No. IF I go to see this film, I won’t be thinking of my beloved Dark Shadows from 40 years ago. I almost feel like this film is making fun of the campiness we came to love about the original series, and that doesn’t sit well with me.

    On the other hand, I love Depp–so IF I go to see this film, it will be to view a new story I haven’t seen before, as far as I’m concerned–and, with that in mind, maybe I will like it 😛

  2. Deborah Lacy

    @decarillion – I know exactly how you feel.

  3. Kerry

    I really will watch any movie Johny Depp is in. He’s just a great actor and can play just about any roll. I plan to see Dark Shadows, but will not compare it to the series or the original actors.

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