Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, blah! blah!, is the latest Film That's Sup-
posed To Be Good to finally arrive in Triangle theaters.  (Next is 
Ang Lee's GROUCHY TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, on Friday.)  E. Elias Mer-
hige (who?) directs this entirely intriguing, mostly amusing, and, 
alas, *way* too low-budget looking period pic about legendary Ger-
man silent filmmaker F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) and the shooting 
of his 1921 horror masterpiece NOSFERATU.  Except... in this fic-
tional take, the guy playing the vampire-- infamous character ac-
tor Max Shreck-- really *is* a vampire.  Played to the hilt by an 
obviously fun-having Willem Dafoe, the always-in-costume Shreck 
gets his first close-up about thirty minutes into the movie, at a 
creepy Czechoslovakian castle that the Berlin-based crew has flown 
in to film.  And Dafoe's an absolute *hoot*, hunched-over and all 
buck-toothed sneer, slowly cocking head, and glaring, bright, big 
eyes.  He's helped by heavy make-up that adds long, talon-like 
nails, a bleached, blue-veined, nearly-bald skull, and little tiny 
tufts of white, well, Malkovich-style hair.  (He does sorta look 
like his co-star, doesn't he?)

Not surprisingly, Dafoe eclipses both M. and the other plays.  Not 
that their outshined performances necessarily matter, as SHADOW is 
*far* more believable as a black-comedy than even a half-affecting 
drama.  (Though there *are* a few, damn-fine poignant bits to be 
found, like Shreck sadly staring into a projector lens, watching 
footage of... the sun.)  I might blame this lesser effectiveness 
on the lower production values--  under-lighting and a grainy film 
stock that, even if it's more authentic, adds a BLAIR WITCH air to 
the whole thing.  And, friends, the *last* thing we want in a 
movie-that-might-try-to-scare-us is a reminder of that particular 
suck-fest.  (Ha!  Vampire pun!)  At least the detailed depictions 
of early filmmaking techniques are fascinating.  And there's at 
least one bonafide bit that's worth paying for--  an impromptu bit 
o' rodent-chewing that's both hilarious unexpected and absolutely 
side-splitting in the only half-fazed reactions of the vampire's 
drunken companions.  (Calling Ozzy Osbourne!)  There's also some 
mild amusement in the arrival of Cary Elwes an hour in, as a re-
placement camera operator.  (The crew members keep dying or disap-
pearing.  Go figure...)  He's a fast-talking howl, sounding like a 
German Brit with a head cold on speed.  And speaking of the sup-
porting cast, the movie may have the dubious distinction of being 
the only film featuring creepy character Udo Kier in a *normal* 
role!  Fab title credits, too.  Maybe the best part, in fact-- an 
elaborate (and sexually suggestive!) montage of gray-toned Expres-
sionist (Expressionistic?) art, accompanied by composer Dan Jones' 
splendid, slowly soaring score.  Hey, the movie might not be the 
most consistent, but it sure starts well!  (Rated "R"/90 min.)
Grade: C+

Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

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Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros -Movie Hell™ is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros