"SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE"|
89 minutes | Rated: R
Friday, December 29, 2000 (NY/LA)
Friday, January 26, 2001 (wider)
Directed by E. Elias Merhige
Starring John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack, Eddie Izzard, John Aden Gillet & Ronan Vibert
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 30%|
If you're a vampire fan or interested in silent films, this is a "do not miss"! The stylistic impact and the highly nuanced (while still over-the-top at times) performances won't have the same punch on the small screen -- and it's a horror movie within a movie -- so watch with the lights off and your undivided attention.
VIDEO RELEASE: 05.29.2001
Fantastic, deeply intelligent commentary track by director Mirhige in which he talks in depth about the layers of symbolism, reveals the incredible amounts of research he did on the real Murnau, and about the meticulous planning for the film -- and that's just in the first 15 minutes. By the end he's taking himself pretty seriously, but you have to love a director who gets so wrapped up in watching the film from time to time that he pauses mid-sentence to listen to dialogue or watch an actor in awe.|
OTHER NOTABLE BONUS MATERIAL
Interviews with producer Nicolas Cage, Mirhige and Dafoe, who is a great interview, especially when talking about creating the character of Max Schreck. Five-minute HBO-style making-of featurette, trailer, begotten trailer, make-up photos
2.35:1 ratio; 5.1 Dolby & DTS
A little grey
DVD RATING: ***
Behind the scenes of silent classic 'Nosferatu,' 'Shadow' asks what if Max Schreck was a real vampire?
Part homage to one of cinema's best-known silent films, part winkingly nebulous black comedy, and part old-school horror flick, "Shadow of the Vampire" is a crafty "what if" fictionalization of the making of "Nosferatu," the world's first vampire movie.
The film stars John Malkovich as F.W. Murnau, the classic picture's legendarily obsessive director who is willing to go to any lengths to capture genuine terror from his cast -- even if it means hiring a real vampire to play the lead, promising the undead "actor" the neck of his leading lady when the picture wraps.
Enter Willem Dafoe in a performance of a lifetime as Max Schreck -- the method actor who never appeared to the cast and crew out of character (or out of make-up, or during daylight) the whole time "Nosferatu" was being made on location at a foreboding castle in Bavaria, circa 1922.
But in the mythology of "Shadow," Schreck isn't a method actor at all -- he's a bona fide bloodsucker with whom Murnau cut a diabolical deal for the sake of creating an absurd level of authenticity.
Of course, with a wild card like that dealt into the production, things soon get out of hand. Murnau finds himself losing a battle of wills with the fiendishly thirsty thespian and it isn't long before crew members start turning up dead -- like the cinematographer Murnau was counting on for his movie's ghoulish look.
"Why not the script girl?" harangues the hair-pulling Murnau.
"The script girl?" Schreck snarls with evil glee, eyes darting about in sinister machination, "I'll eat her later!"
Even under mounds of wrinkly, pointy-eared prosthetics that precisely recreate Schreck's "Nosferatu" look, Dafoe is brilliantly uncanny, grotesque and feral -- while also being quite droll -- in a role that began generating Oscar buzz as long ago as the Cannes Film Festival in May.
He's not the sole allure of this movie, however. The script, by TV writer and script doctor Steven Katz, is brimming with clever dialogue and insightful nods to the dawn of modern cinema. Director E. Elias Merhige ("Begotten") inventively draws his audience into this on-set world with, for example, ingenious transitions from behind the scenes, through the iris of the hand-cranked camera, and right into the scenes from "Nosferatu." Deftly photographed and meticulously designed to mimic the atmosphere of a silent film, "Shadow" captures that spirit in magnificent detail.
As icing on the cake, the performances of the entire ensemble cast are thoroughly entertaining.
With a subtle sense of humor, Malkovich nails Murnau's erratic, tantrum-prone temperament and complete dedication to his craft, speaking in almost absurdly poetic verse about the art and poetry of film. Cary Elwes is a shot in the arm as the loose cannon cameraman replacement. Cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard is perfectly cast as "Nosferatu's" dapper, overacting leading man (the fact that men caked on the makeup for silent films just makes him all the more apropos). And the considerably under-appreciated Catherine McCormack ("Dangerous Beauty," "Land Girls") is spectacular as the spoiled stage actress fated to be sacrificed at the alter of Murnau's artistic vision.
Because it's such wicked fun, the handful of acute flaws that are this movie's albatross become particularly grating and obtrusive. Structurally, "Shadow of the Vampire" is jumpy at best, downright sloppy at worst. For example: One central character just up and disappears 3/4ths of the way through the movie. Was a scene left on the cutting room floor? Did Schreck suck his blood off screen? Hellooo?
But in the tradition of the many recent "what if" movies ("JFK," "Dick," "Shakespeare in Love," and the similarly Hollywood horror-themed "Gods & Monsters"), "Shadow" is entertaining (and often truly eerie) enough to forgive its foibles, even if they are sometimes severe.