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Shadow Of The Vampire (DVD)
Member Name: wampyrii
Shadow Of The Vampire (DVD)
Date: 01/02/03, updated on 03/02/03 (68 review reads)
Advantages: Different and entertaining
Disadvantages: Helps if you've seen Nosferatu
Murnau: "Why him you monster, why not the...script girl?"
Orlock: "Oh yes, the script girl. I'll eat her later."
You'll notice that 99% of what they're serving up at the cinema right now is tripe. It's that time of year, it's always pants just after Christmas. Apparently now I'm supposed to be looking forward to watching the cream of the current crop Dare Devil in a few days time...erm yeah, that's why I'll be watching DVDs instead for at least another month. Mostly tripe I tell you. Still, there's always video, not quite the same thrill of course but cheaper and there's plenty of stonkingly good films lurking around out there. I'm on a Hitchcock splurge at the moment but I figure other people can and have reviewed and analysed all of those pretty much to death over the last umpteen years so I'll save my breath and review something arthouse instead. Oh joy you say, but trust me, this is a good 'un...
"Nosferatu" he says, hoping at least some reading this will have watched it and possibly know what he's on about, is one of the most influentual movies of all time. Originally supposed to be the first complete cinematic retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula its production ran into difficulty when Bram Stoker's widow refused German director F. W. Murnau access to the copyright. Consequently the film was still made but names and places were changed...slighly. Count Dracula became Count Orlock for starters but the story is still very obviously hugely inspired by the novel and remains the first true rendition of the Dracula story. It also remains the creepiest despite being a silent black and white movie filmed over 80 years ago. Much of this comes down to Max Schreck's magnificently creepy and very believable portrayal of the Count and Murnau's superlative directing. The ficticious story of the production of this movie is what Shadow Of The Vampire is a
"Yawn" you say? "NO!" I say, far from it. Shadow Of The Vampire takes the absolutely ingenious, but entirely ficticious idea that the vampire at the centre of Nosferatu was actually played by a real life ancient vampire who Murnau found living in an old ruin whilst researching his movie. He gives the vampire the name Max Schreck, telling his crew he is a Russian method actor who will remain in character and costume the whole time they see him. Naturally they are unnerved by the mystery, more so when they finally meet this shambling, hunched decrepid figure as he comes shuffling out of a foreboding hole in an old ruinous castle and even more when crew members start becoming mysteriously sick and disappearing. Murnau has a deal with the vampire, what it is you'll just have to wait and see, but part of that deal is that he'll not ruin his picture during the production by eating his cast and crew although controlling the appetites of the creature is never going to be an easy task...
Part of the joy of watching Shadow Of The Vampire is in the performances of the two lead actors. Willem Dafoe is completely unrecognisable under swathes of superb make-up effects and his broken, aged Russian accent and the way he has captured the mannerisms of Schreck's Orlock of 80 years previous is perfection indeed. His reaction to the world of movie-making is classic, totally not understanding what he is meant to be doing or why and really only wanting to sink his fangs into the neck of his co-stars who really have no difficulty feigning horror and revulsion at being in his presence! It is obvious that this isn't a horror movie as such but a homage to one of the greatest and the producers of it are certainly not afraid to have some fun with the idea. The Count and his perfectly timed reactions are the centre of much of that fun but he and the movie can also switch in an instant to being down right sinister, Dafoe has the a
bility to pull it all off with great aplomb and it's little wonder he was Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role here.
John Malkovich as Murnau is equally superb to watch. Initially fully in control you watch how this director is determined to get his movie made despite rapidly losing control of his precocious vampire lead and will sink lower and lower into murky moral waters as he tries to retain that hold. Some of the conversations between these two are just so surreal you don't know whether to be horrified or to laugh at loud but never once does it feel like parody which is to be commended. Also along for the ride comes Eddie Izzard as the actor playing Jonathan Harker who does a rather excellent job of looking rather camp and freaked out throughout as indeed he might and Catherine McCormack who doesn't appear much until the end but is suitably bitchy and erm, 'Hollywood' for want of a better term!
I loved the authentic 1920's style costume and all the contemporary film equipment and techniques which are very cool to watch. I've no idea about the accuracy of this but then, who cares? It's entertainment and how many are experts on either to care. In terms of the story, many elements which I do know about from the original production of Nosferatu have been retained which lends it an amusing air of credibility and any fan of that movie or vampire movies in general will be more than happy to be swept along with the idea of Orlock indeed being a real vampire Count. The sets are delightfully gothic and the tone, whilst often quite dark, swings to-and-fro from tongue-in-cheek homage to a study of darkest obsession and by the end you'll be undoubtedly comparing Murnau to his star and seeing little difference. The script too is fantastic with some great set pieces from both leads, see particularly Orlock's take on Stoker's Dracula and Murnau throughout uttering some deliciously over-cooked dir
ections and rants during takes.
This really isn't a title which is going to leap off of the shelves at you to be honest but Shadow Of The Vampire grabbed and held my attention with the greatest of ease simply by weaving an intruiging and very original tale around a real landmark in movie history. It could have been so 'wrong' but it does everything right and I have to say I enjoyed every second of it. It's usually the way, the hyped up big budget blockbusters are relatively entertaining whilst those which lurk amongst the undergrowth easily blow them away. I think perhaps it helps to have an understanding of the original movie to appreciate just what on Earth this is all about so perhaps it cuts down its audience somewhat there. Without that knowledge I can see a few being completely lost! Still, there's no excuse, I believe Blockbuster usually hold a copy of Nosferatu and it's rather short so rent both and watch them back to back! Shadow Of The Vampire is hugely entertaining, a little disturbing at times, very funny at others and certainly not what you'd expect from a vampire-oriented movie, easily gaining 5 stars from me.