Shadow of the Vampire

Directed by E. Elias Merhige
Starring: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Cary Elwes, Eddie Izzard, Udo Kier, Catherine McCormack, Ronan Vibert.
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality, drug content, violence and langauge.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
January 14, 2001

My last review was for State and Main, David Mamet's satire of a modern Hollywood film being shot in a small new England town. Now, I have another film about filmmaking to review, except the film being made is a real one from long ago, but the story departs from reality.

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau directed what would become his best-known film in 1922 -- Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, or simply Nosferatu, as it is known in America. It was the first film version of Bram Stoker's Dracula, but Murnau never acquired the rights to the novel, so the names and locations had to be changed. His vampire would be known as Count Orlok of Slovakia.

In Shadow of the Vampire, Murnau (John Malkovich) has cast an unknown actor named Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) to play Orlok. Schreck was a method actor long before the Actor's Studio was ever founded. He insists on arriving at the set in full makeup, and that the crew only refer to him as Orlok. Murnau is happy with this arrangement, but the others, like producer Albin Grau (Udo Kier) and supporting actor Gustav von Wangenheim (Eddie Izzard), suspect that Schreck's vampirism is more than an act.

Other recent horror films, like Scream 3 and Urban Legends, have tried to turn the making of a horror film into something scary in itself. Unlike the others, Shadow of the Vampire creates such effective horror that it nearly drives me to use clichés like "spine-tingling" and "edge-of-your-seat thriller". I'll let the quote whores resort to those. However, my enthusiasm for the first (and seemingly the last) really effective horror film of 2000 is not any lesser.

Dafoe's performance as Schreck rivals that of Schreck himself, who was certainly not a real vampire. What's more, director E. Elias Merhige successfully recreates scenes from Nosferatu with Dafoe, Izzard, and Catherine McCormack (who plays Greta Schroeder) with incredible accuracy. I won't go so far as to say that his talent rivals Murnau's, but he has created something special and unique -- qualities which were all too rare last year.

It's difficult to rate a film like Shadow of the Vampire, since it is so original that no earlier film exists for a proper comparison. It's a high-concept horror film of historical fiction. It's a major treat for film buffs, but is still highly enjoyable for people who have never even heard of Nosferatu. I think that only thing keeping me from giving it four stars is the unavoidable comparison to the silent classic. In conclusion: ignorance is bliss for the Murnau-deprived.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Shadow of the Vampire (2000) -- VHS
Shadow of the Vampire (2000) -- DVD


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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan