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Overall Rating
3.81

Awesome: 24.64%
Worth A Look47.1%
Average: 14.49%
Pretty Bad: 12.32%
Total Crap: 1.45%

11 reviews, 72 user ratings


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Shadow of the Vampire
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by Collin Souter

"Burden of Screams: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse"
4 stars

Shadow of the Vampire tells the story of a filmmaker who wants to make a great horror movie. Nothing more, nothing less. The movie starts off literally telling us what it will be about, which may help viewers who thought they walked into a horror movie, but will seem redundant to those who read the synopses before they drove to the theater. It tells the story of the making of the classic German silent film, Nosferatu, and I suspect that seeing that movie will greatly enhance your enjoyment of this movie. Or, maybe not.

My girlfriend and I watched Nosferatu one hour before going to see Shadow, so I had the advantage. I don’t know if you can get Nosferatu as easily as a copy of Interview With A Vampire at your local Blockbuster, but if you consider yourself a serious movie aficionado, the search will be worth it. And if not, you have Willem Dafoe’s unbeatable performance to fixate on. If nothing else, Shadow might inspire you to do some research.

Willem Dafoe plays Max Shreck, one of the world’s first method actors. Hired by German filmmaker, W.F. Murnau (John Malkovich), Shreck’s first appearance to the cast and crew, as well as to us, comes after a warning from Murnau, almost in the same way the characters in Silence of the Lambs warned Clarise Starling about Hannibal Lechter. The more we hear the warning, the more we want to see the danger.

Trouble begins when Shreck feels a bit peckish. He eyes Murnau’s cameraman and decides to give him a little bite on the neck, causing production to cease and the leading actor to reconsider his career choice. “How dare you destroy my photographer,” Murnau screams at Shreck. Shreck just sits like a well-nourished circus geek who just ate the next door neighbor’s cat and would like to wash it down with kittens. He doesn’t know he did wrong. He only knows he felt hungry.

Shreck looks like a cross between Rocky Horror’s Riff-Raff, The Simpsons’ Mr. Burns and Underdog’s Simon Bar Sinister. But since he looks, feels and disappears into the part of Nosferatu the Vampire so much, he gets free reign as to how to behave on the set and where the filming will take place. So much so, he refuses to go on a ship where dozens of scenes must be filmed. A frustrated Murnau orders his team to build a replica of the ship next to the castle. And people think of Melanie Griffith as a pain in the ass.

The last half-hour of Shadow reminded me of a cult film from France called Man Bites Dog, which chronicled the adventures of a documentary film crew who followed around a charismatic serial killer. While watching that dark comedy, we could feel the plight of the filmmakers who knew they could not turn back, no matter how violent or immoral their subject’s actions would be. The show must go on. Shreck has such a stranglehold on Murnau, that Shreck ends up being our only clue as to why Murnau seems so motivated to move on. Therein lies the movie’s problem.

We don’t get to know very much about Murnau. We don’t know anything about why he makes movies, why he wants to make this particular movie, or why he puts up with Shreck at all. Murnau goes so far as to make a sort-of deal with the devil for certain camera shots for his “symphony of horror,” but we never learn what motivates such a foolish act. It could be just ego, but where does the ego come from?

Still, Shadow does entertain and showcases some of the best performances of the year. Willem Dafoe’s performance as Shreck already achieved legendary status prior to the film’s release. I don’t recall seeing him in the movie at all, and his disappearing act into the mind and body of Max Shreck has more to do with the relish with which he embraces the part than the superior make-up and costumes that go into his physical transformation. Watch his scene where he talks to the film’s producer and director about his idea of sadness behind the Dracula story. Dafoe gets my vote for Best Supporting Actor of 2000.

Malkovich-Malkovich also wears his part nicely. There have been many times in the past where Malkovich has come dangerously close to going over the top with his performances, and he walks the edge here, but he keeps his balance and reminds us why he deserves to have a movie named after him. British comedian Eddie Izzard looks eerily similar to the real Gustov von Wangenheim, the poor actor who had to act opposite Shreck. Izzard spends most of his screen time looking petrified and bewildered by Shreck’s methods. We can’t help but feel sorry for the guy.

Many people at the screening I attended remarked about the short length of the movie. It really could have been longer with a lot more insight as to where these real-life characters came from. We walk out with a dramatized version of Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, whereby a director has himself stuck in a moment he can’t get out of. Nothing more, nothing less. Still, I find movies such as this--with its subject, its performances and over-all atmosphere--easy to sink my teeth into.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1891&reviewer=233
originally posted: 02/05/01 06:45:44
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User Comments

11/07/18 Langano One of the best vampire films. 4 stars
6/14/16 FireWithFire Might've been a good movie, but as usual, MalkoPEE ruined it with his pretentious "acting" 2 stars
10/25/09 brian This movie sucks. Brilliantly. 4 stars
10/23/09 the dork knight Brilliant pairing of Malkovich and DaFoe! Scary / hilarious at the same time 4 stars
5/26/08 PAUL SHORTT STRANGELY INERT AND DEPRESSINGLY LITERAL MINDED 1 stars
4/28/08 simon burgin Agreed! film was rubbish, good premise, bad execution 2 stars
1/10/07 David Pollastrini great concept 5 stars
12/19/06 Goggle Eyes Most terrifyingly plausible vampire movie - ever! 5 stars
8/30/05 ES It was an interesting premise but unworthy of the hype surrounding it 3 stars
3/28/05 indrid cold Juicy performances, but the story is too weird and slow to be good. 3 stars
9/03/03 Charles Tatum An interesting idea told with complete indifference 2 stars
5/01/03 Andrew Carden Willem Dafoe Gives The Best Performance Of 2001. Brilliant Film. 5 stars
4/11/03 Jack Bourbon Brilliant visuals. Too many stories going on at once, though. Good movie overall. 4 stars
3/04/03 Jack Sommersby More of an artistic stunt than an organic motion picture. Dafoe, though, is a delight. 2 stars
11/04/02 kooler Genius. 5 stars
7/29/02 Captain Midol Given a choice between death and sitting through this again? I'd flip a coin. 2 stars
6/06/02 I'm in (L) with a Jedi well.....im a bit disappointed, coz the trailers looked cool....but it was too long... 3 stars
4/27/02 maximal01 Dafoe is funny as hell.. but the damn movie wrapped up like they got bored with the story!! 4 stars
3/02/02 Chowie Willem Dafoe is excellent, but the whole movie is too long and streched out 3 stars
1/15/02 Penguin Boy Go Willem Dafoe. Awesome. Malkovich overdoes it, & movie is dull, uninteresting, formulaic 2 stars
12/21/01 daniboy WIllem Dafoe DESERVED thar Oscar 5 stars
11/03/01 Andrew Carden Very Interesting Plot About Making The Movie, but The Rest Is Most Dull. 3 stars
9/23/01 Larry Smith Eddie Izzard... way to go! Willem Dafoe #1! 5 stars
9/18/01 Dane A movie critic's day off! 5 stars
9/05/01 malcolm malkovich is eerily convincing as a lunatic film-maker 4 stars
8/19/01 Reini Urban The first half is interesting, the second boring. 3 stars
7/20/01 Gus it's funny and creepy at the same time!!~~ 5 stars
6/20/01 Stephanie HiCollin, Notenoughspacetowriteeverything. WillemDafoewasgreat.Hadmebelievinghewasavamp. 5 stars
6/17/01 The Bomb 69 looked great, strong acting, the script seemed a little weak though 4 stars
6/02/01 Jason S. Kotz Awesome movie, I was hooked from begining to end. 5 stars
6/02/01 mahone Not funny. Not scary. Boring in the extreme. 2 stars
5/06/01 Roy Smith I had to apologize to my friends for draging them to see this..slow, slow, slow..movie. 2 stars
4/23/01 kelly excellent,a piece of art!!! 5 stars
4/08/01 Lord Raymos Well done, scary..weak ending. 4 stars
3/24/01 Jessi Beautiful-- Most artistic film ever, most intelligent process done-- 5 stars
3/23/01 William Peterson A pretty damn good movie with no clear point in my poor little mind. 4 stars
3/11/01 hum Yes Nosferatu, eat the writer. Too many good ideas under explored 2 stars
3/09/01 roberto getto smells of munau, smells of herzog, smells gRRReat 5 stars
3/04/01 Adam Freeman Funny and scary. 4 stars
3/04/01 Suzz loved it 5 stars
3/02/01 Captain Highcrime A welcome reprieve from the "Blade"s and "Dracula 2000"s of late. 4 stars
3/01/01 Roger the Shrubber Great acting, great set design, original story. If only the ending wasn't so damn silly... 4 stars
2/22/01 Steve Walsh A gem. Expectations of this film mean it's currently being underappreciated. 4 stars
2/20/01 Frank Kelly Good intentions, but pretty incoherent 3 stars
2/16/01 Ken Ratajczyk Awesome! Defoe should win an oscar...Hands Down!!! 5 stars
2/15/01 shawn allen killer story, superb acting, great visuals 5 stars
2/12/01 NoRefill Not much of a story. Never cared about the characters. Defoe is great. 3 stars
2/10/01 KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi Did I mention John Malkovich kicks ass?? 4 stars
2/07/01 Katchoo Unique premise, could have been played up for dark humor, but quite interesting. 4 stars
2/07/01 puckfreak Good movie, longest opening credits scene EVER! 4 stars
2/06/01 sophia866 All Artists are Vampires, all Vampires are addicts, soo..... 5 stars
2/06/01 Dorothy Constable Such a great movie 4 stars
2/05/01 Stephanie Belli refreshingly different 5 stars
2/04/01 geo Best Film Of The Year. If you don't think so, then go see Valentine where you belong. 5 stars
2/02/01 Jed M. Wall This is the finest contemporary film since "L.A. Confidential" 5 stars
2/01/01 James BJ Enjoyable, Dafoe was great!! 4 stars
1/30/01 puff the magic dragon Willem Dafoe steals the show 4 stars
1/30/01 James Good camara work, and story line 4 stars
1/29/01 Stuntman good movie, great cast 4 stars
1/27/01 frankko great performances, but i didn't care much for the story 2 stars
1/26/01 Boy In The Designer Bubble cool movie, much classier than expected. 5 stars
1/24/01 Stephanie Dafoe and Izzard were really the only highlights of this shoddy directionless flick. 2 stars
1/23/01 william fitz Wonderul and intelligent. 5 stars
1/13/01 Neil Great film Dafoe was excellent, but Izzard was better!!! 5 stars
1/11/01 Heather Fascinating, intriguing movie, amazing performance from Willem Dafoe 5 stars
1/11/01 Liz Dafoe and Malkovich succeed in continously freaking me out! The film is truly frightening! 5 stars
1/09/01 Dr Fardook this film accessed a null space in my brain. I think I liked it. I can't remember 4 stars
12/30/00 Joseph Molnar I loved this film. Funny, scary and beautiful. Unlike any other picture I've seen 5 stars
12/20/00 CB Great! Dafoe and cast all manage over-the-top perfmncs without blowing it. Fun. 5 stars
12/18/00 marleene dubois Fantastic, smart, funny, most original film in years, who is this great, original director? 5 stars
12/12/00 cooljo so dummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm 1 stars
11/20/00 Vandemaele Kurt Funny, but too smart for it's own good. And Willem Dafoe is brilliant in the film. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  26-Jan-2001 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  25-Jan-2001 (M)


Directed by
  Elias Merhige

Written by
  Steven Katz

Cast
  John Malkovich
  Willem Dafoe
  Cary Elwes
  Catherine McCormack
  Udo Kier
  Eddie Izzard



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