Catherine McCormack and Willem Dafoe in Shadow of the Vampire.
John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe are two of today's greatest character actors. Between the two of them, they have created a gallery of oddball and psychotic characters that is greater than anyone's save perhaps Christopher Walken. In Shadow of the Vampire, they each create another of these characters that they play so well. Each creating a masterfully, over the top, and definitely odd, character.
The movie tells the story of the filming of the original vampire film, Nosferatu. Only in this version of the telling, the actor (Willem Dafoe) playing the vampire, really is a vampire. Only the director, German filmmaker F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich), knows the truth. He simply tells the rest of the cast and crew that Max Schreck will be playing the vampire, and he is a method actor and will therefore never appear out of character or makeup. Something the cast and crew go along with, even though they are dubious of the new actor, until certain members of the crew turn up missing. As the filming continues, the real reason for the vampire's participation becomes clear, and both the movie being made and the movie you are watching build toward their final shot and the inevitable showdown between inhuman monster and it's cinematic creator.
Humor and atmosphere are combined for good effect. British comedian Eddie Izzard has a few amusing scenes as the German actor who first meets the vampire and must react accordingly in front of the cameras. And the scenes leading to the vampire's first appearance build up suspense and atmosphere.
The true star and scene-stealer of this movie is of course Willem Dafoe. Nearly unrecognizable underneath the makeup, he turns in an incredible performance as the vampire that is so old; he can no longer remember where or when he was born. He is in turns, intimidating, frightening, humorous, pitiful, and sympathetic. This is a role, pardon me, that he really sinks his teeth into.
Malkovich plays, yet another over the top character. This time, the artiste, film director who is willing to make a deal with a vampire to create art. He's good in the role, but by now, we know that Malkovich can play over the top, in his sleep.
My only real problem with this otherwise enjoyable film, is the ending. I like the point that they make. Who is the greater monster, the vampire or the obsessed filmmaker? But, for such an original film, the ending seems a little too predictable and pat, an almost typical horror movie ending. Which is sad, because up until then, the movie is fast paced, amusing, and frightening, all at the same time. Still, in this cookie cutter movie world, it's nice to see the occasional move that doesn't quite fit into a specific genre or can't easily be classified.
Udo Kier and John Malkovich in Shadow of the Vampire.
Shadow of the Vampire is such a mixed bag. First of all, the concept is one of the most brilliantly original ideas ever for a movie. Unfortunately the execution doesn't live up to the promise.
The sets and lighting conjure up the proper atmosphere, yet the movie suffers from sloppy editing and a script that needs work. For example when members of the crew of the movie within a movie start turning up missing no one seems particularly upset or suspicious. And the pacing seemed slow to me. The movie clocks in at just over an hour and a half but seemed longer.
Willem Dafoe entirely steals the movie as Max Shreck, the vampire. He is everything Scott has already written. My favorite scene is when he is asked his opinion of Dracula. It is a wry humorous moment.
Several shots from the original Nosferatu are recreated and as a nostalgic look back at silent film making the movie works. The balance between humor and horror is handled well. But as Scott mentioned the ending can be seen coming from a mile away.
So who is the bigger monster, the bloodsucking vampire or the director who sells his soul for his art?
Willem Dafoe in Shadow of the Vampire.
If you have ever thought that one must be good looking to be an actor then you have never followed the careers of Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich. These two are absolutely perfect casting for any horror movie. Dafoe has a face that only a mother or paid prostitute could love. Malkovich has less charm than a bad tempered crocodile. So within the confines of this movie these two actors find perfect material. Dafoe is covered by makeup and Malkovich places a nut case.
Other than that, I have very little to add. My brothers made every other point that I wanted to. I reiterate, the acting, sets and atmosphere were great, but, like Patrick, I thought the editing was not up to the standard of the rest of the movie.
I would, however like to see the actual movie, Nosferatu, and see how well this movie compares.
Photos © Copyright Lions Gate Films (2000)