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Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige) 2000

After viewing the advertisements for Merhige's Shadow of the Vampire, which fictionally chronicles the making of the F.W. Munrau's silent classic Nosferatu, you might think,  "I don't know quite what to make of it.  Is it a  horror movie? a comedy? or just plain weird?" After viewing the film, I think it is way too disjointed to really say what the intent of the endeavor really was. The film is the victim of poor direction that sucks all the life blood from the juicy material. (I think this mess was the runner-up for Best Picture in the L.A. film critics' awards though! Amazing...) There is no consistent tone at all. There are a lot of shots that seem to be missing, as if the director didn't understand the concept of shooting proper coverage or simply doesn't care to present the audience with any visual consistency.  The film hops from location to location, with odd title cards inserted when expositional action would make more sense. The editing room probably saved the film from being a complete mess, but not by much.

The film is hard to classify, which is not an inherently bad thing, but I suppose it is a comedy more than anything. But what an odd comedy it is! Most of the film's negligible tension comes from the relationship between the director and his ultimate method actor. There is never enough tension created to make it feel like a horror film, even though there are horror film elements. I didn't particularly take issue with the liberties the film took, though I imagine they'd be somewhat irksome if you were a film scholar (Munrau is portrayed as straight, Shreck is seen as a real vampire even though he had been in other films cast as a non-vampire by that point, etc...). I basically knew the film was a wash going into it (I have a friend who works at Lion's Gate who knocked it) but  I could not help but see it. Still Willem Dafoe is teriffic as Max Shreck. It's a more of a parlor trick than a  performance, to be sure, but it's a great one. His performance, and the teriffic makeup that assists it, basically justify the time spent watching the film. I'm sure he'll get an Oscar nod (and probably will deserve to win, since Jeffrey Wright won't get a nomination for Shaft, nor will Bill Murray for Hamlet).  As you watch the film's scenes without Dafoe (there are a fair number of these), you'll mostly lament the film's squandered potential.


September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman