Shadow Of The Vampire

*****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

To recreate the making of FW Murnau's silent horror film, Nosferatu, in the ruins of a big house in Luxembourg, using modern actors with foreign accents, is an interesting concept for whey-faced movie buffs. A nagging doubt remains, however. Why bother?

E Elias Merhige is a director not known to us. His debut feature, Begotten, named by Time magazine amongst its top 10 films of the year, didn't travel. Afterwards, he concentrated on pop videos and lecturing.

Judging by this, he stands with M Night Shyamalan and Paul Thomas Anderson at the forefront of a new, exciting, independent American cinema. Shadow Of The Vampire is not what it seems. Making a movie about making a movie appears obsessional, especially when doing so in white coats and cranking cameras by hand.

It twists what is known of the truth into another, more terrifying dimension. Nosferatu was Bram Stoker's tale of the undead, thinly disguised, using "an actor of no distinction", called Max Schreck, as Count Orlock.

Murnau (John Malkovich) drives his crew to a location in the woods, where they meet Schreck (Willem Dafoe), reputedly a pupil of Stanislavsky, who insists on remaining in character throughout, only appearing at night and sleeping, it seems, in a box. His skeletal form, bat shaped ears and claw like fingernails cause a certain unease amongst the cast.

"Where were you born?" enquires the scriptwriter, aimiably. "Were you born?"

The joke is not appreciated. When asked for his views on Stoker's novel, Schreck grimaces. "It made me sad," he replies in a guttural wheeze. "Dracula had no servants."

The humour is dark. The madness that is genius infects Murnau's approach to his work ("If it's not in frame, it doesn't exist"). Nothing matters but the film, not even death.

Merhige captures the mood of the moment superbly - Murnau's belief in his art, Schreck's increasing strangeness, the fearful isolation.

Malkovich brings to the director a single-mindedness that goes beyond dedication. Dafoe is transposed into a creature out of time. Catherine McCormack, as the temperamental stage actress who plays Orlock's final victim, is sharper than a razor to lemons and Eddie Izzard, as the Jonathan Harker figure, interprets his role with much comic invention.

Altogether, this is unlike anything. A true original.

Reviewed on: 02 Feb 2001
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Gothic comedy that revises the story of the making of silent film classic Nosferatu.
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Director: E Elias Merhige

Writer: Steven Katz

Starring: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack, Eddie Izzard, Aden Gillett, Nicholas Elliott, Ronan Vibert, Sophie Langevin, Myriam Muller

Year: 2000

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

The Metamorphosis
Nosferatu