Horror Movie Review: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

“Our battle, our struggle, is to create art. Our weapon is the moving picture. Because we have the moving picture, our paintings will grow and recede; our poetry will be shadows that lengthen and conceal; our light will play across living faces that laugh and agonize; and our music will linger and finally overwhelm, because it will have a context as certain as the grave. We are scientists engaged in the creation of memory… but our memory will neither blur nor fade.”

Shadow of the Vampire is a 2000 metafiction horror film directed by E. Elias Merhige. The film is a fictionalized account of the making of the classic vampire film Nosferatu, directed by F. W. Murnau, during which the film crew began to have disturbing suspicions about their lead actor.

In 1921, German director F. W. Murnau is shooting Nosferatu, an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Murnau keeps his team in the dark about their schedule and the actor playing the vampire Count Orlok. It is left to the film’s other main actor, Gustav von Wangenheim, to explain that the lead is an obscure German theater performer named Max Schreck, who is a character actor. To involve himself fully in his role, Schreck will only appear amongst the cast and crew in makeup. He will only be filmed at night, and will never break character.

After filming scenes in a studio with leading actress Greta Schröder, Murnau takes his cast and crew to a remote inn in Czechoslovakia to film on-location. The landlady becomes distressed at Murnau removing crucifixes around the inn. The cameraman, Wolfgang Muller, falls into a strange, hypnotic state. Gustav discovers a bottle of blood amongst the team’s food supplies, and someone delivers a caged ferret in the night to a not yet fully revealed Shreck.

One night, Murnau rushes his team up to a nearby, old Slovak castle for the first scene with the vampire. Schreck appears for the first time, and his appearance and behavior impress and disturb them. The film’s producer, Albin Grau, is confused when Murnau tells him that he originally found Schreck in the castle. Soon after the completion of the scene, Wolfgang is found collapsed in the tunnel into which Schreck had receded.

Whilst filming a dinner scene between Gustav and Orlok, Gustav accidentally cuts his finger. Schreck reacts wildly and tries drinking from Gustav’s wound. The lights fail and when they return, Schreck is at Wolfgang’s neck. Albin orders filming ended for the night, and the crew rushes from the castle, leaving Schreck behind. Alone, Schreck examines the camera equipment, fascinated by footage of a sunrise. With Wolfgang near death, Murnau is forced to bring in another cinematographer, Fritz Arno Wagner. He chastises Schreck in private for attacking his crew members and threatening him with harm if he does not control himself in Murnau’s absence. A threat that Schreck challenges due to his immortality.

What is going on with this production? Has Murnau brought in a real vampire? Watch and find out.

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With Nosferatu’s 100th anniversary approaching, what better companion piece to watch than this? Shadow of the Vampire is a metafiction, you’re constantly made aware of that. And although I did enjoy the intrigue and concept, there were too many flaws to ignore.

For starters, I didn’t understand the vampire’s deal with the director. Why was he interested in making this film? His motivations are not explained. In fact, no one’s motivations are really explained. Which is ironic, given that’s what the director is constantly doing throughout filming – giving them motivations. Additionally, I didn’t like the mystery being confirmed. I would have preferred it be left up to interpretation.

Lastly – on the negative side of things – where an earth did Eddie Izzard go? He was the main character and then suddenly he gets injured and disappears. He’s used so much, you’d think they would have had to recast him but he’s never mentioned again. Also, Greta basically has no character. That’s it. There’s nothing much to say on her unfortunately.

On the positive side, the makeup was great and convincing. Willem Dafoe does a brilliant job, the best anyone could have hoped for but he is a bit distracting, considering all the roles I’ve now seen him in. My favourite scene was where he discusses his take on Dracula and then feeds on a bat mid-flight, while his co-actors just sit there, drunk and impressed by his “method acting”.

Shadow of the Vampire has some truly poetic dialogue that struck a chord with me. I appreciated the director’s passion for his craft especially when in reality, the movie was almost buried and hidden from history permanently.

Overall, Shadow of the Vampire is a cool companion piece but could have been done better. It was too short to flesh out the story and characters fully and ended quite abruptly. The makeup and dialogue makes it worth a watch. If there’s one lesson to be learned from this movie it’s simply, Cary Elwes should never attempt a German accent again!




Shadow of the Vampire
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