‘Dark Shadows’: The story behind the grand, Gothic set design

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For anyone familiar with the original long-running television series “Dark Shadows,” one of the biggest surprises of Tim Burton’s big-screen remake opening this week may lie with what’s behind the massive front doors of Collinwood Manor.

Freed from the budgetary constraints of a daily soap opera set and fertilized with the vision of Burton and production designer Rick Heinrichs, the interior of Collinwood was built on a soundstage as a full-fledged, exquisitely detailed character of its own. Fading Gothic grandeur is seamlessly combined with maritime motifs that reference the Collins family’s ties to the sea.


The floor of the grand foyer is tiled in a blue-and-white pattern that evokes ocean waves, and upon closer examination, the immense chandelier overhead proves to have milky white octopus tentacles snaking among the strings of crystals.

“I designed the undulating floor tile based on a 12th century basket-weave design I’d found,” Heinrichs said. “It was made to our specifications out of extra hard plaster, since a movie production can be a lot of wear.” The production designer said the marine-themed chandelier had to be sketched out and then rendered in 3-D.

Filmgoers also will see sea horses flanking the fireplace, sea serpents encircling the newels at the bottom of the grand staircase and denizens of the briny deep, including a trident-wielding Neptune, standing sentinel on carved wooden panels throughout the house — figures that were first made in miniature before larger versions were milled. “It was tricky,” Heinrichs said, adding that the inordinate level of detail was necessary. “When Barnabas [Johnny Depp] walks into Collinwood, he makes a reference to the artisans and craftspeople who worked on the house. So it needed to reflect that amount of effort.”

The Collins family of ‘Dark Shadows’ inevitably gravitates to the grand foyer for key moments, but much of the action takes place in smaller, more intimate spaces inside and outside the ancestral home: behind barking dog fireplaces, in hidden treasure rooms. Let’s just say that this Collinwood Manor holds as many secrets as the family that inhabits it.

-- Adam Tschorn

More of the fading Gothic grandeur created for ‘Dark Shadows,’ above and below.


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Photo credits: Warner Bros.