Shadow Of The Vampire (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner05/02/2001

2 out of 5 stars
Running time: 90 mins

A brilliant idea and two enjoyably over-the-top central performances, but an ultimately disappointing one-joke movie.

The film is set in 1921, with legendary German director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) preparing to direct his adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula - the names are changed because Stoker’s estate wouldn’t give permission to use them. He and his film crew decamp to a remote Eastern European country village where they encounter the film’s mysterious star, Max Schreck.

However, unbeknownst to the crew, Schreck is a real vampire, lured into the film by Murnau’s promise that at the end of the film he can feast on leading lady Catherine McCormack’s neck!

Films about film-making, and especially films about particular films, are naturally going to require a certain amount of knowledge of the original film. Here, the film-makers do their level best to circumvent that stumbling-block by inserting actual footage from the 1922 film, as well as re-creating key scenes.

However, if you haven’t seen the original Nosferatu, what you ultimately miss out on is just how genuinely creepy-looking the real-life Schreck looked in the film – indeed, you don’t have to look far to see where the idea for Shadow of the Vampire came from.

In an ideal world, cinemas would be forced to show the original film beforehand - entirely possible in theory, as it’s only 63 minutes long, and Shadow is a mere 90 minutes - but sadly, that’s unlikely.

The central idea is a compelling one, and throws up all sorts of metaphorical possibilities regarding the nature of art and film-making, the parasitic relationship between director, crew and star and so forth. However, none of the potentially interesting possibilities are explored, and as a result the film suffers something of an identity crisis - it doesn’t know whether it wants to be an out-and-out black comedy, a horror film or something else entirely.

A large part of the humour comes from the central performances. Malkovich plays Murnau as the classic Mad Scientist-type, wearing goggles and a white coat. Obsessed with getting his masterpiece made at all costs, he thinks nothing of sacrificing various crew-members to appease his blood-thirsty star, though he’s a little particular about the pecking order. ("Why did you have to kill the cameraman? Why not the script girl?", he yells at one point. "I’ll eat her later!" comes the chilling reply.)

It’s Dafoe who steals the show, though, aided by an absolutely terrific make-up job that gives him impossibly long claw-like finger-nails and weirdly twisted pointy ears. His delivery is spot-on, too, hissing and snarling every line, though he ultimately emerges as the more sympathetic of the two - it’s clear that Murnau is the real monster. The scene where Schreck runs the projector to recreate the sun he can never see is particularly good.

The film does have its share of good scenes, both comic (Murnau deliberately making Eddie Izzard’s leading man cut his finger on camera) and serious (Schreck’s discussion of Stoker’s novel), but ultimately it doesn’t do enough to sustain interest after the (early) revelation of its central joke.

A curiosity, then, worth seeing for the performances, but also something of a disappointment.

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Shadow Of The Vampire (15)
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Content updated: 22/07/2018 04:06

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