E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire is a very absurd film. It presents an alternative idea as to what happened on the set of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu in 1922. The film proposes one outrageous question and expands from this point: what if actor Max Schreck was a real vampire? Shadow of the Vampire stems from some ludicrous and false facts which makes it nothing more than a harmless and entertaining piece of fan fiction. It is a bizarre piece of nonsense that is nevertheless thoroughly enjoyable and mind-boggling. What makes Shadow of the Vampire so endearing is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously; on second thought perhaps it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Despite the chaotic storyline and the eccentric performances Shadow of the Vampire expresses a great love for the art of cinema and highlights its importance. The film tells the story of the production and filming of Nosferatu and the sinister agreement that the lead actor and the director have come to. The film is reasonably short which means that it is high in energy from start to finish. It is well paced and slick but remains a complete shambles. Blurring the lines between method acting and the supernatural Shadow of the Vampire presents some highly entertaining answers to the wonderful question it originally proposes.
Willem Dafoe plays Max Schreck; or does he in fact play a vampire playing an actor playing a vampire? I still don’t know and I don’t think I’m supposed to. John Malkovich plays our director who will go to any length to tell his story. Malkovich’s performance is as camp and stilted as his appearance in Johnny English. He is a wonderful actor who sometimes strays into weaker territory which is, on the one hand, a shame but also highly amusing to watch. The aggressive relationship between director and actor is reminiscent of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski’s creative collaborations. I am yet to see the duo’s remake of Nosferatu from 1979 but Dafoe’s irrationality and selfishness reflects Kinski’s notorious unstable nature and Malkovich captures Herzog’s directorial intensity and commitment to his art. The film is both baffling and indulgent. It is both comical and horrifying. Made in 2000 but with the appearance of a seventies horror, Shadow of the Vampire is all about nostalgia. A film created by a fan for fans, it is confusing and strange but entertaining and charming. Eddie Izzard is unexpected but fantastic casting and he takes his place amongst everything else that is so odd about this story. I get the impression that it is a film that will improve greatly on a second viewing. On first viewing, it is a whirlwind of fun and fear.
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