Monday, July 11, 2011

Shadow of the Vampire (2000, E. Elias Merhige)

On the surface, E. Elias Merhige's "Shadow of the Vampire" is a compelling recreation of the production of F.W. Murnau's classic German expressionist masterpiece "Nasferatu". Personally, I am fascinated with Murnau's films and am excessively interested in the blossoming of his most well-known vampire foundation. Yet, "Shadow of the Vampire" left me confused as to what, exactly, Merhige and writer Steven Katz were looking to accomplish with the film. While the origin of "Nosferatu" is intriguing, as well as the mysterious persona of actor Max Schreck, the way in which the film suggests that Schreck was an actual vampire hired for the production was a hard concept to take seriously, in my opinion.

This was the first real mainstream outing for Merhige whose 1990 film "Begotten" garnered some attention in the horror/art-house underground, prompting Nicholas Cage to produce "Shadow of a Vampire" based on his appreciation of the film maker. Unfortunately, Merhige's auteur "flair" never quite transitioned into his Hollywood efforts ("Suspect Zero" being another disappointing discredit to his unique cinematic outlook that once was). However, if you look at "Shadow of the Vampire" from all different angles, it IS, in fact, an interesting and offbeat film.

Playing ball with what this flick throws at ya, Max Schreck wasn't just a German character actor, but actually an authentic vampire who was secretly hired by accomplished film maker F.W. Murnau for the role of Count Orlok in his up-coming horror film "Nosferatu". The cast and crew were a bit fearful of the method actor's behavior seeing how he never broke character and lived in the castle set used for the film. Not to mention he attacks several members of the team and drinks their blood...

It's a well shot film and every actor gives 110%, yet the slanderous peremptory notion the film takes against Schreck is, again, hard to take seriously. Hell, at times, it's downright funny the way Willem Dafoe portrays Count Orlok with those buck teeth. Yet, I assume this film was driven by the fact that an intact copy of "Nosferatu" is virtually unattainable, hence, Max Schreck's vampire outburst during his eminent death scene have been misplaced over the film's one hundred year existence. Eh. Why not. If you just sit back and enjoy the fantasy and character besmirching that "Shadow of the Vampire" has to offer, it isn't a bad film at all!

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