Shadow of the Vampire
Starring Willem DaFoe, John Malkovich

My Rating:

A spooky new take on the old vampire fable. Good for All Hallows Eve.

Bitable Bytes:
"The Concept is Good!"
"Actually Rather Funny!"
"The Details Are Vague in order to Serve the General Weirdness!"

What to do while watching:
1. Watch DaFoe having a ball. 2. Think about other movies.

What to eat while watching:

Have you ever seen Nosferatu or scenes from it? For a silent film from the 20's, it's pretty damn freaky. Seeing the gaunt, haunted form of Max Shrenk stalking his young victim with excruciating slowness imprints his eerie presence on the mind. His thin arms and talon-like fingers quiver like rubber--just as undead limbs should quiver. His eyes have a seeming as though he could drink your blood just by looking at you.

It's easy to imagine director E. Elias Merhige and/or the screenwriter of Shadow of the Vampire discussing the old vampire movie with friends and postulating that Shrenk's performance was so powerful that it made you believe that he really was a vampire. E. and his cronies have another round of Francis Ford Coppola's best red wine. E. begins to wax gruesome: what if Shrenk really was a vampire and wasn't acting at all? That's a great idea for a story, someone slurs, and film history is made.

That the story concept is good, there is no doubt. In this genre that has been mined for all it's worth, finding a new angle is no mean feat. But indeed this film wrenches yet another interesting--and unused--slant from vampire lore. It's a meta-angle, actually, for now the lore has expanded to include vampire films themselves. There is something in this that doubles back on its own tail, something like Being John Malkovich, aptly enough. Shadow of the Vampire juxtaposes the art of filmmaking and the mania of genius directors with the monomania of the blood-sucking royalty.

The situation is actually rather funny, which makes it easier for sensitive folk like Mrs. Worsted to enjoy what is ostensibly a horror film. It's really more of a comedy, but nothing crass or slapstick like Scary Movie. Mainly, it's a film set around a darkly comic situation.

The tale itself is secondary, coming to the viewer in tomb-like tatters. Bits seem left out, dropped off like decayed limbs. Subplots loom like storm clouds on the horizon, only to dissipate unconsummated. The movie just keeps bringing us back to the main conceit, namely, wouldn't it be wild if the star of Nosferatu were truly a vampire?! Yes, yes, good concept...

Willem Dafoe's acting well embodies this monologue-heavy movie. It's really all about him. Sure Malkovich tries to steal the show with his predictable intensity. (What is it about that guy and his intensity? Even his quite moments are intense.) Anyway, Malko is really just window dressing for the camp-vampire, whereas DaFoe gets really swept up in the role.

Do you remember the main plot device of Victor Victoria with Julie Andrews and Robert Preston? She played a woman pretending to be a man, pretending to be a woman. And that was funny and ornate and wild just like this story in which a vampire pretends to be an actor, pretending to be a vampire. But DaFoe isn't as sexy as Andrews.

And I've already mentioned the other film that kept coming to mind: Being John Malkovich. John Cusack plays a shlub who discovers a door that leads into the mind of actor John Malkovich, who plays himself, being intense about everything. That, too, is a nutty concept, and the details are equally vague in order to serve the general weirdness.

I must say that DaFoe is really great. He really gets into the character. Not once did I doubt that he was having the greatest time being the old spook. He gets to kill people and suck blood, eat small mammals and converse about the depressing depths of his being. His onscreen review of the Bram Stoker novel, spoken to Nosferatu's writer and producer, is really well written and insightful, making me think that the screenwriter must have been an English major.

If you're like most people, Halloween isn't really about scariness as much as the symbol of scary things. I mean, just look at all the decorations of smiling ghosts and dancing skeletons. If you're into a little horror flavoring this season, without really freaking yourself out, you could do much worse than renting this film and watching it while you pass out candy to the young neighborhood scamps.

Also see what Filthy said about it.

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For your collection: Shadow of the Vampire (DVD), Shadow of the Vampire (VHS)

Gooden's listening to: Shadow of the Vampire Soundtrack, My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult's Sexplosion

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