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"Shadow of the Vampire"

Directed by E. Elias Merhige.
Written by Steven Katz. 
Starring John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe and Cary Elwes.
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  2/4/01 


Yesterday afternoon, my mom and I dropped by the Rio multiplex theaters in Gaithersburg to catch "Shadow of the Vampire", since it was not showing at my regular theater in Merrifield.  And, I was going to write the review after I came home last night...but, the XFL games were starting up!!

Let me be brief in my comments about the XFL, for fear that I get too excited about its possibilities again.  Did you watch it Saturday night?  First, a fired-up Vince McMahon--Founder of the XFL and the guru of all things wrestling right now--came to mid-field and screamed to crazed fans "WELCOME TO THE X...F...L!!!!!!!!!!!!"  Then, members of the hometown Las Vegas Outlaws and the visiting New York/New Jersey Hitmen got to introduce themselves to a national audience...and then, we got to see porn-star-quality cheerleaders strutting their stuff in front of the this-is-my-fourth-beer fan base.  It looked pretty wild, I have to admit...and, I hate the wrestling shows that come on during the week, so don't take me for an out-and-out McMahon worshipper.  But, the best moment of the night for me?  XFL producers filmed little locker room scenes with players from various teams and cheerleaders, and in one of them, an Outlaw cornerback is talking to the camera with a *well*-endowed cheerleader who is looking at him fetchingly.

"You know what play I love the most?"  [gratuitously looks at cheerleader's bosom, then looks back at camera]  "The bump and run!"

You couldn't find cheesier, more hilarious acting...unless you watched that awful NBC show "Titans."  This thing has promise.

Many of you went to see "Shadow of the Vampire" last weekend and dropped me a line to go see it myself.  So, I did, and I am glad for the recommendation.  I only saw one preview of this film and after watching it (and, even that was this past summer), I had NO idea what this film would be about.  In that respect, after watching the film yesterday, it is very hard to is part comedy, part horror, part psychodrama.

In 1921, a famous German filmmaker named Murnau (John Malkovich) is attempting to make a vampire film called "Nosferatu" that will catapult him into the film society stratosphere, and so he takes an extreme measure to do it:  he hires a "Russian character actor" named Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe, not "William") that, for some strange reason, is always dressed in-character and looks strangely similar to, well, Dracula.  The film crew thinks it is very strange that they have never heard of this actor and that Schreck is required to be called Count Orlok during filming, both on screen and off of it.  Of course, we the audience figure out very early on that Schreck really IS a vampire, and when people in the crew start, well, disappearing, the filmmaking process becomes very interesting.  The premise is based on rumors formed around the explanation of the real "Nosferatu" and its filming problems.

This is a weird movie.  This is helped by the fact that it stars two of Hollywood's weirdest actors in Malkovich and Dafoe.  Dafoe, as the vampire, is brilliant.  Although he has some very funny scenes as his Schreck is going through the filmmaking motions as a first-time "actor" in Murnau's film, the things he does with just his eyes while in costume might scare you or amuse you at the same time.  But, you get the impression there is something deeper when he first sees a portrait of the "Nosferatu" star, a woman named Greta Schroeder...a passion for a woman, a longing for a person.  One can understand, then, his secret deal with Murnau which gets him to play a vampire in Murnau's film.  And, speaking of Max Schreck, this is also the name of Christopher Walken's character in "Batman Returns," and Walken's Schreck looked a lot like a vampire, too.  Hmm...

At the heart of this film, though, is a movie about moviemaking, and after attempting a no-budget version of a film myself, I really get into watching films about directors trying to get stars to act, film financiers to help out, and production assistants to get them doughnuts.  If you like this kind of film, two that I really like are the recent Steve Martin/Eddie Murphy comedy "Bowfinger", and a 1995 Steve Buscemi movie called "Living in Oblivion."  The latter is pretty strong and was an independent release, meaning you are more likely to have not seen that one in theaters.

I loved the way "Shadow of the Vampire" was shot as well, with all of the black-and-white pieces of the film interspersed with Murnau's direction of "Nosferatu."  The support is great, especially with the wry delivery of lines by Murnau's producer Albin (Udo Kier, "Blade" and trillions of other supporting characters) and a replacement cinematographer named Fritz (Cary Elwes, "Glory" and "The Princess Bride", most famously).  And, it even zips by at a fast-paced are in and out of the movie house in 100 minutes.

Not perfect, but still an entertaining experience.

Rating:  $8.25 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09