Shadow of the Vampire (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I love a strange-off. Wow, did John Malkovich ever meet his Waterloo in this movie! Remember in "Illuminata", when Ben Gazzara turned in such a profoundly deranged performance that Christopher Walken wasn't the strangest guy in the movie? Walken lost the only strange-off of his career. Kind of like a watershed in film history. Well Malkovich, another of the masters of strangeness, lost the strange-off in this film. He was weird, but he wasn't even close to Willem Dafoe. Dafoe was so strange that he may now be the reigning king.
The premise is fascinating. Can you remember if you have ever seen any scenes from the 1922 German expressionist masterpiece Nosferatu? You probably have. It was a rip off of Stoker's Dracula, because Stoker's estate wouldn't sell the rights to his story, and it was one of the first vampire flicks ever made. They always show clips from it in film history documentaries. I've never seen the movie, but I've seen the clips several dozen times.


Catherine McCormack appeared topless in a scene in which her character was drugged up, lying on her back. McCormack is unrecognizable with black hair and 1920ish raccoon make-up.
For nearly a century, people have wondered how in the world the lead actor, Max Schreck, managed to look so creepy in the role. It is positively brilliant how they created the impression of Nosferatu so long ago, with the narrow mouth and the rat teeth, and the pointed ears, and long fingernails, and so forth. This guy looked really creepy.

Well, this movie posits the hypothetical answer. There was no Max Schreck. The director (F.W. Murnau, played by Malkovich) was so in love with his movie realism that he hired a real vampire to play the part of an actor playing a vampire. So how do you pay a real vampire? You let him devour the beautiful leading lady after the filming is over!

Talk about an over-the-top premise. Of course, there was a Shreck, and he acted for another decade or more in non-vampire films. And the real Greta Schroder worked in one more picture, noticeably still alive. But ignore all that. This movie gives you a much more interesting explanation.

Willem Dafoe must have practiced for months in front of a mirror to get this down, because he absolutely nailed Max Schreck. They cut in some real footage from the original Nosferatu, and they also show new black-and-white footage with Dafoe, and you simply can't tell when Dafoe ends and Shreck begins. Many people have said that Dafoe is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination, probably in the Supporting division, and it's hard to argue with the nomination. All actors know that this kind of over-the-top role is easier to do than realism, but Dafoe's impression is so accurate that I feel it will be impossible to ignore.

The concept is basically played for very dark humor, not serious drama. The director gets upset when the vampire devours his photographer, so he confronts him and asks him - why eat somebody essential like the photographer? If he just had to eat, why not just the script girl? The vampire's answer, "I'll eat her later". 

DVD info from Amazon for Shadow of the Vampire

  • widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1

  • full-length director commentary

  • filmed interviews 

DVD info from Amazon for Nosferatu.

When the director has to fly to Berlin to get a new photographer, he tells the vampire not to eat any more crew members, and Nosferatu replies, "I've come to the conclusion that once the filming is started, we really don't need a writer any more", whereupon the director admits, albeit reluctantly and regretfully, that writers are actually necessary. You get the idea.

I know it sounds kinda dumb, but they manage to pull this off simply because it's such a creative and loony premise, everybody really gets into it, and the film is only 90 minutes long, so they don't overstay their welcome. It's an actor's dream. Drug frenzies, flesh eating, larger-than-life leading ladies, temperamental artists. Virtually every role allows the actors their moments in the sun - er, darkness - and they all chew the scenery. Just people having fun, and we get to watch with a quizzical look on our faces, an occasional scare, and an occasional belly laugh.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, Apollo 76. Berardinelli picked it in his Top 10 for the year.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. Critics loved it. 86% positive overall, 88% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary for Shadow of the Vampire: IMDb voters score it 7.0, Apollo users only 68/100. It's the kind of artistic and "inside" film that critics like better than filmgoers.
  • With their dollars ... it did eight million in moderate distribution - 500 theaters. It was made for a modest $8 million.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-.

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