Shadow Of The Vampire Review

Shadow Of The Vampire can be seen as part of those ‘unofficial’ series that often occur in cinema history. What follows are usually two or three unrelated films that illustrate the same themes. Take Red Planet and Mission To Mars for example or Ants and A Bug’s Life. A few years ago, Reality TV was ‘in’ and we were given The Truman Show, EdTV and Pleasantville, all within a year of each other.

Shadow Of The Vampire, however, is the third film to explore the making of a horror classic, and the subject film is the 1922 silent epic Nosferatu. In 1994, we had the brilliant Tim Burton directed biopic of Ed Wood, winner of two Oscars. Ed Wood depicted the life of director Edward D. Wood, Jr. whilst making his masterpiece Plan 9 From Outer Space, considered the worst movie ever made. Two years ago, Gods And Monsters was released and concentrated on the life of James Whale, and his recollections of his experiences of directing Frankenstein and The Bride Of Frankenstein. Shadow Of The Vampire continues this trend, and unfortunately is the weakest of the three. Not that it doesn’t try its hardest, it’s just that it is confused and almost torn between the two previous efforts.

The premise is unrealistic, and the filmmakers make no apologies of the artistic license they have taken with the truth. Even so, the film concerns itself with director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich), whose plans to film the most authentic Dracula novel are destroyed by the Bram Stoker estate who refuse permission for Murnau to film the novel. Never one to be detoured, Murnau films the novel anyway, simply renaming it Nosferatu and changing the bloodthirsty count’s name to Orlock instead of Dracula. To make matters worse, Murnau is having problems with the financiers who hate the script and his leading actress has regular morphine problems. These setbacks however, are proved minor compared to other factors. In his desire to create a vampire film to end all vampire films, Murnau convinces the terrifying and obscure Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe in an Oscar nominated role) to play Count Orlock. Murnau convinces the crew that Schreck is the ultimate in method acting – he will always appear in character, in full makeup, and only at night. Soon however, members of the crew meet with strange deaths, and rumours arise that Schreck is actually a real vampire. It quickly transpires that Murnau has bargained with Schreck and promised him the neck of the leading lady if he finishes the film. However, Schreck’s bloodthirsty cravings are getting the better of him.

The far-fetched storyline is the only saving grace of a weak plot that isn’t sure whether to be serious or savagely funny. The film works better on the latter principle, but sadly for most parts the film is presented as the former, which mostly fails. The art direction is severely lacking and its blandness doesn’t help the film stray from its tedium. Fortunately, Willem Dafoe is more than capable as Max Schreck and he shines every second he is in the film. I’d even go one step further and say he was better than Benicio Del Toro in Traffic, the man who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Malkovich is also compelling, but ever since he played himself brilliantly in Being John Malkovich it’s hard to see him ever top that role. The director Elias Merhige could have delivered a storyline more fascinating than Ed Wood, but has in fact rendered it sub-par. Characters and plot strands come and go without explanation, and the music score confuses the audience by being heavily dramatic when certain scenes do not call for it. Shadow Of The Vampire is a missed opportunity only slightly redeemed by a good last quarter. Instead of being a classic movie the subject deserves, it instead feels nothing more than a BBC Sunday evening special with a feature cast. Having said that, it contains probably the funniest line of the year with “I do not think we need . . . the writer . . ."

Presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic the picture is framed differently to the cinema and R1 versions that were 2.35:1. Fear not, as the 1.85:1 is apparently slightly more open-matted and thus more information is included for us lucky R2 consumers. The film feels like it was blatantly shot in 4:3 anyway. The transfer is mediocre at best, and some indoor scenes switch from being crystal clear to extremely grainy in a few shots, which is odd.

Presented in both 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, the sound quality is quite clear without ever being too detailed. Again, the sound quality feels like a BBC serial.

Although there are an abundance of extras, they actually amount to far less than perceived value.

Director’s Commentary - The commentary by Elias Merhige is sparse and monotone at best, and although a few filming details are revealed it only ever peaks at the slightly interesting mark. Merhige needs someone like Willem Dafoe or John Malkovich, or at least Eddie Izzard to bounce conversation off. It’s a struggle to watch this commentary all the way through.

Making Of - A short making of which is basically the modern technique of mixing sequences from the film with interviews with the cast and crew. The featurette is annoying considering how in love with the film the crew appears to be. You start to wonder if they’ve actually seen it. Interesting to note that alleged producer Nicolas Cage is nowhere to be seen on the crew or in the ‘making of’. Maybe he should have been credited ‘Executive Producer’ or ‘Silent Partner’.

Behind The Scenes - A short series of brief clips of the crew hard at work behind the scenes. These featurettes if lacking narration are usually a waste of time and this one is no different. You won’t want to watch it twice.

Special Effects/Makeup Featurette
This could have been an interesting extra, A featurette devoted to exploring how Dafoe’s brilliant makeup helped create the illusion of Max Schreck. Unfortunately the featurette only lasts a couple of minutes and for some reason only takes up the middle section of the screen. Another wasted opportunity.

Production Notes Contain information concerning the film and the original Nosferatu, including the trailer for the Nosferatu DVD.

Trailer A trailer that paints the film to be an eerie drama, which is a slight misrepresentation.

Cast and Crew Biographies Devotes one page each to the principle members of the cast and crew.

The makers of Shadow Of The Vampire have obviously tried but ultimately failed in a bid to emulate Ed Wood and Gods and Monsters. The film is worth a look but doesn’t really compete with other major releases of the last six months. The DVD is the same, with extras that should have been excellent that don’t quite make the grade. Shadow Of The Vampire is still worth seeing just for Willem Dafoe, who has seen his career range from being a Vietnam vet, sleeping with Madonna, playing Max Schreck and representing Christ himself.

6 out of 10
6 out of 10
6 out of 10
6 out of 10


out of 10

Last updated: 31/05/2018 19:11:46

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