Monday, October 24, 2011

Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige, 2000)

If you have gotten tired of vampire films and need a pick-me-up, you owe it to yourself to check out Merhige's Shadow of the Vampire, starring John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Cary Elwes, Eddie Izzard, and Catherine McCormack.

In it, Malkovich plays Nosferatu film director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, an obsessive German director (is there another kind?) who falls in love with Bram Stoker's Dracula, but is unable to get the film rights from Stoker's estate. Instead, he "creates" his own version of the tale, basically by changing Count Dracula to Count Orloff, and featuring an unknown actor, Max Schrek (Dafoe) as the vampire. This is all very similar to history, but then things change. Schrek is in fact an actual vampire which Murnau was able to locate in Czechoslovakia. Murnau makes promises to Schrek that he may not be able to keep, as well as plots to destroy the creature.

It is a beautifully done film at a trim 93 minutes. It switches nicely between faux-original footage from the 1922 film, and offers some nice insight into silent film production. Dafoe is delightfully creepy as Schrek, bringing a menace to the vampire world we do not see much any more. Malkovich gets a bit over-the-top, but that is part of the role. The stereotype of the 1920's obsessive German film director demands such, and he provides his own menace as the probable real villain of the piece. My only real complaint with the film is that at times, just a few, Dafoe's Schrek takes on a very Uncle Fester a la Christopher Lloyd aspect, but that might be due to the amount of Addams Family material I have been watching lately.

In all, I think vampire purists should enjoy this one greatly, despite the idea that immediately popped up on the IMDb about vampires not showing up on film. Schrek is sympathetic yet evil. More classic, old school vampire than Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (which was still very good), where Schrek is both compelling and repulsive to those around him, and is a wonderful break from the over attractive vampire we typically get. Definitely worth your time.


Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Love this one. Dafoe is so good in this role and the movie and the story of the real Max Shrek is one of those 'stranger than fiction' tales. Glad you posted about this one. I have to watch it again.

koboldstyle said...

Yeah, I got a big kick out of this movie too, really appreciated that they played it absolutely straight - which hits the subtext about the nature of obsessiveness (whether it's the metaphor of vampirism or the cliche of a film director) just perfectly.

Darius Whiteplume said...

It is a pretty cool film. Definitely fun. Catherine McCormack is pretty hot to boot.

T. Roger Thomas said...

Eddie Izzard was in this? Who knew?

Darius Whiteplume said...

He's hard to spot, kind of in the between phase or skinny semi-drag queen and fat and bearded of today :-)

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