FILM OF THE MONTH

From March 2001
Film Review

Also recommended: THE CLAIM
ALMOST FAMOUSother February releases

Film Review Hotline
SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE
5 Stars; Excellent

John Malkovich as FW Murnau

Children of the night, what movies they make...

STARS: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe
Udo Kier, Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack, Eddie Izzard

DIRECTOR: E Elias Merhige
SCREENPLAY:
Steven Katz
CERTIFICATE: 15
DISTRIBUTOR and Image copyright: Metrodome
RUNNING TIME: 1hr 30mins
OPENING DATE (UK): February 2

Making a movie about making a movie is always going to be something of a dodgy proposition, running the risk of becoming so self-referential that it disappears up its own fundament. Shadow of the Vampire is no self-indulgent drama-documentary, however. It sticks to the known facts as far as they go – which isn’t very – with one crucial difference, or revelation, depending on your point of view.

FW Murnau (Malkovich) was very much a scientific film-maker. His crew would wear white lab coats and polarized goggles on set. It makes perfect sense, then, that when he set out to make the most credible vampire film possible (Nosferatu, 1922), he should cast a genuine bloodsucker, known as Max Schreck, in the role of Drac… sorry, ‘Count Orlock’.

Shadow chronicles the problems an enterprising film-maker is likely to encounter when his main bad guy has a tendency to treat the crew as hors d’ouevres. Having promised his star the leading lady as a wrap party snack, Murnau finds it increasingly difficult to keep the vampire’s appetites under control. He’s not helped by the raucous behaviour of his mortal cast and crew either, who seem to have little faith in his ability to keep the production on an even keel, especially after the first cameraman falls ill with suspected anaemia. Deary me, where do you imagine all that blood went?

Filmed, like Nosferatu, entirely on location, Shadow of the Vampire skilfully blends gothic horror and slapstick comedy, but this is no Fright Night or Young Frankenstein. If it does have a cinematic antecedent, it is probably An American Werewolf in London, where the horror is in no way diminished by the humour.

Willem Dafoe excels as Schreck/Orlok, managing completely to convey the unhealthy, diseased, revolting unpleasantness that Schreck himself portrayed so convincingly. By playing it so disturbingly straight, the incongruous humour of lines such as “I don’t think we need the screenwriter any more” manages to be at once a hilarious commentary on the preciousness of actors, and deeply threatening. Malkovich, meanwhile, plays a man obsessed (something he’s had plenty of practice at) who will let nothing come between him and the completion of his picture. Eddie Izzard’s leading man acts with exquisite awfulness, while the appearance of the sadly underrated Cary Elwes manages to up the pace of an already speedy film merely through his frantic onscreen presence.

Whether you are a fan of horror movies or just of movies, this is an involving, hilarious and terrifying experience that shows recent pretenders to the horror genre (such as the execrable Lost Souls) just where they’ve got it wrong. Like its progenitor, Shadow of the Vampire is destined to become a classic.

Ben Woodhams

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Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction.

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FILM OF THE MONTH:
5 Stars; Excellent
THE CLAIM • released February 2

FULL DETAILS AND REVIEWS OF ALL THESE AND MORE IN THIS ISSUE

4 Stars; Recommended
ALMOST FAMOUSFeb 16
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S • Feb 16

4 Stars; Recommended
Feb 16 • THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE
Feb 16 • STATE AND MAIN
Feb 2 • WHAT WOMEN WANT