Reviews header Selected from Shivers #84

The Latest in Horror Entertainment
In this issue: eleven pages of reviews, covering:

Video / DVD Reviews •
Stephen Foster on a new host of Horror DVDs including Vampyres, Young Frankenstein and Blue Velvet, plus more adventures in The Twilight Zone

Book Reviews •
David Howe on new titles including Robert Weinberg's illustrated Horror of the 20th Century, Gollancz's Dark Terrors 5 collection and The Secret Life of Colors

TV Reviews •
Ian Atkins look at the opening episodes from the new seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel

Film Reviews •
Featuring Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Shadow of the Vampire and Alex de la Iglesias’s La Comunidad

Young Frankenstein
Director: Mel Brooks Starring:
Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman
Region 2 (PAL) DVD
Fox Home Entertainment

Young Frankenstein on DVD

Reviewed by Stephen Foster
selected and edited from Shivers #84

Brooks’ delirious 1974 spoof of Universal’s classic Frankenstein movies has not managed to retain the public regard it, and many other of the director’s films, had during the 80s, when they were still fresh enough to attract new audiences. Hopefully the availability of Fox’s DVD version will help restore its good fortune.

Not formally announced as a Special Edition, the disc has features numerous enough to qualify, including a full-length, rather spontaneous, commentary track, a handful of deleted scenes, trailers, TV adverts, about five minutes of outtakes and two black and white interviews (one with Wilder and Cloris Leachman, the other with Feldman, all in costume) shot for Mexican television.

Fans of the film may want to upgrade from the US version of the DVD, since the new disc presents the film in widescreen (1.85:1) with 16:9 enhancement – a significant improvement. You may want to hang onto your Region 1 disc though, because the Region 2 version omits the enormous gallery of production photos on the US version, many of which reveal small insights into how the film was made. The UK disc has English audio only (with 11 sets of subtitles, including English), whereas the US disc also had French and Spanish audio. The English audio on both discs is in 2.0 mono, but on the US disc it is all channelled through the centre speaker. The UK disc seems to split the sound equally across the front three channels, which may be an error.

Shadow of the Vampire
Director: E Elias Merhige Starring:
John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Catherine McCormack

Running time: 93 mins
UK première: London Film Festival, 2 November 2000

Willem Dafoe as the vampire 'Shreck'

Reviewed by Jonathan Rigby
selected and edited from Shivers #84

No beating about the bush on this one. E Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire purports to analyse the obsessive nature of creativity via a fictionalized account of the making of F W Murnau’s Nosferatu in 1921, and will inevitably be lumped in with other necrophile exercises like Ed Wood and Gods and Monsters. This is too good for it. Where the other films ennoble and enrich their source material, Shadow of the Vampire does the exact opposite, treating Nosferatu with half-giggly, half-sneering contempt.

A film whose intertitles can’t agree on the spelling of Murnau’s Dracula substitute – varying between Orlock and Orlok – doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence, but for half an hour or so the action is moderately engaging. The film looks thoroughly gorgeous, plausibly recreating the ambience of Berlin’s Jofa Studios as Murnau collects his more straight-forward interior shots before setting off on location. The mystery surrounding Murnau’s choice for Orlok himself is agreeably developed, John Malkovich gives the director’s artistic temperament just the right edge of gathering hysteria and the decision to dress his crew in lab coats and goggles is a nice way of stressing Murnau’s half-artistic, half-scientific approach to his work.

Strangely, Murnau’s homosexuality is ignored altogether, with only the briefest hint of decadence when he visits a Berlin speakeasy that looks like a low-rent off-cut from Cabaret, a scene so token it’s hardly worth bothering with. There are other warning signs. The film’s opening shot shows the desirable Greta Schroeder (Catherine McCormack) playing with a cat as Murnau croons “Nice pussy, nice pussy” from off camera. This pathetic Carry On gag is the first line in the picture.

And, when Schreck is finally unveiled, the film collapses irretrievably. The central conceit behind Shadow of the Vampire is that Schreck wasn’t an actor at all but a real ‘live’ vampire. In a make-up that bears only the loosest resemblance to the original prosthetics devised by Albin Grau, Willem Dafoe plays him more as Albert Steptoe than Graf Orlok. Orlok’s pointed ears are retained, but not his pointed front teeth; they’re merely enlarged a bit to look like rabbit’s teeth, so that when Dafoe doesn’t resemble Wilfrid Brambell he resembles Bugs Bunny. Dafoe has one good scene, when Schreck explains to Grau (Udo Kier) and screenwriter Henrik Galeen (Aden Gillet) how he felt on reading Stoker’s novel – he was touched by the scenes in which it becomes clear that the lonely Count has no servants. But elsewhere Dafoe’s performance is a gurning burlesque that has to be seen to be believed. It’s sad to see Malkovich giving his all in some ludicrously ill-judged scenes in which Murnau attempts to dissuade Schreck from feeding on his cast and crew.

The film trips up on its own pretensions at every turn. Much is made of Schreck’s first entrance, emerging from a tunnel to the unfeigned horror of his co-star Gustav von Wangenheim (Eddie Izzard), who, we are led to believe, has never clapped eyes on him before. Yet Merhige destroys this promising scene in advance by preceding it with a clip of the real Schreck, in the real Nosferatu, driving the coach. Wangenheim was in that scene with Schreck, of course, thus making a nonsense of what follows. Murnau convinces his crew members, meanwhile, that Schreck is the kind of dedicated performer who would later be called a Method actor. In his first dialogue scene, however, Schreck looks at the locket given to him by Wangenheim and, breaking character completely, exclaims that it’s a picture of Greta Schroeder. This is good for a cheap laugh – cheap laughs abound in this picture – but, after it, Merhige has the crew members sagely agree that Schreck’s absorption in his role is absolute. None of this makes any sense whatsoever.

Worse still, the film has no tension and no rhythm, becoming very boring indeed in its latter stages. In recreating key moments from Nosferatu, it singles out only those scenes already over-familiar from their pirated use in rock videos or documentaries about vampires. Nosferatu was a small picture, clearly done on the cheap, and yet its scope is vast by comparison to the mean-spirited riff on it devised by Merhige and his screenwriter Steven Katz.

Shadow of the Vampire is a five-year-old’s notion of ‘deconstruction’. It offers no worthwhile insight into the creative process and culminates in a scene that would be laughable if its inept handling didn’t stifle laughter in the astonished viewer’s throat. Totally barmy by now, Murnau keeps on filming while Schreck merrily kills off Grau, Greta and cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner (Cary Elwes), making Murnau the unofficial godfather of Snuff movies. ‘The finale will move you into a whole new space you didn’t know existed or believe was there,’ Merhige has claimed. The result is merely bathetic.

Book Review
Horror of the 20th Century:
An Illustrated History

By Robert Weinberg
Published by Collector’s Press, 256pp $60 hardback (suggested UK price: £40)

Horror of the 20th Century
Reviewed by David Howe:
selected and edited from Shivers #84

Robert Weinberg has written 15 Horror novels, over two dozen short stories and compiled over 130 anthologies, as well as having worked in the television and film industries.

This is more like it! A very lavish coffee-table book covering the history of Horror in the 20th century. Weinberg has decided to take a more literary look at events, and so rather than a more standard stock-in-trade of chronicling Horror through films, here we go primarily for the fiction, with comics, pulps and a few films thrown in for good measure. It’s all very refreshing.

This is a gorgeous looking volume, profusely illustrated with jacket artwork through the years, and touching on all our favourite authors. As the book and its author are American, this is a history from that viewpoint, and so some of the more significant recent UK Horror practitioners like Stephen Laws and Simon Clark are not mentioned (though thankfully James Herbert, Brian Lumley and Shaun Hutson are), and instead the work of generally unknown-in-the-UK authors like J N Williamson, Hugh B Cave and Chet Williamson are covered. This does not matter too much, however, as it’s interesting to see how things developed from a US perspective, and certainly helps to understand the ‘Boom and Bust’ culture of the Horror fiction market.

Weinberg covers his subject in a readable, chatty style, and although I don’t personally agree with some of his statements as to which were the great Horror authors, he certainly points out the high and low points of the genre. We start with the Gothic writers of the late eighteenth century (Horace Walpole, Mrs Radcliffe, Matthew Gregory Lewis) and then skip through the years, covering the influence of magazines like Weird Tales and Unknown, the advent of cheap paperbacks, small press publishers like Arkham House, and onwards into the Sixties with authors like Dennis Wheatley, Robert Bloch and the Hammer Film omnibuses of John Burke. The Seventies sees, of course, Stephen King, Dean Koontz and others, as well as Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty, Peter Straub and Anne Rice.

The Eighties brought us Clive Barker – here cited as the last major talent to emerge on the Horror scene, and I think this might be correct, as since then publishers in the UK and in America have eschewed Horror as a genre altogether, leaving only a few writers published at all and no-one therefore emerging to even remotely threaten the position of the ‘big names’. If the book has a fault it is that the late Eighties and Nineties are skimmed through, and there was some great Horror to be found in this period. Reasons for the current low profile of Horror are given, and they seem valid if at the moment hard to turn around. This is a fascinating and superb-looking book. Highly recommended.

Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000.
Images © Fox Home Entertainment, Metrodome, Collectors' Press. Not for reproduction