Vampires have been done to death. There a few faster ways to lose my interest in a story than to tell me it’s about this particular breed of monster. I've seen all the takes--making vampires allegories for the fear of death, plague, forbidden sexuality, charming foreigners, irrelevant and parasitic aristocracy, and even yuppy trash--and the vein's been sucked dry by my reckoning. As such, I give Shadow of the Vampire respect for linking the iconic creature of the night to a novel, and fitting, metaphoric brother--the movie director.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem to have enough in common with Scream 4 to fit into this week’s theme. However, look a little closer and you'll realize that they're cut from the same cloth of self-aware satire and surprisingly-solid scares. Much like how Scream was made by people with an encyclopedic understanding of slasher movies, this was produced with a deep understanding of vampires’ place in film, literature and folklore. It's as much a comment on movie-making as it is a meditation on the less sensational and less sexy qualities of the undead.
Cast thine upon eyes the trailer, which focuses a great deal more on the humor...
Come to think of it, being produced by Nic Cage is probably grounds enough for a movie to be considered weird.
Shadow of the Vampire takes the conceit that Max Shreck, the star of the classic German expressionist film Nosferatu, was actually a real vampire (a notion that sort-of, kind-of was an urban legend in cinephile circles) and runs with it to paint a portrait of F. W. Murnau ( John Malkovich) as a director ruthlessly obsessed with authenticity in his art. Willem Dafoe’s Shreck goes along with the charade more-or-less because it’s a break from his centuries of boredom but, needless to say, he quickly grows impatient with Murnau’s promises of giving him lead actress, Greta Schröder ( Catherine McCormack,) to ravage. He starts attacking the crew, one by one, and Murnau has to rein him in like many directors have had to wrangle uncooperative, crew-terrorizing stars on set...
That's just one of many clever dialogs and monologues that skillfully mix parody and pathos. Probably the most salient (but unavailable online) is Greta's unfavorable comparisons between movie making and live theater. She laments how the latter gives her life while the former drains it from her and, as Murnau's obsession with his art takes more precedence over the welfare of his people, the movie drives home how his camera has much the same effect as Schreck's fangs. Indeed, he may act like he’s horrified by the mayhem Shrek's wrecking, but it becomes clearer towards the end that he's actually relishing this voyeuristic opportunity to capture carnage. He might have even planned for it.
Performances are excellent all around, but Wilhem Dafoe is the appropriate stand out. He oscillates between cartoonishly over-the-top and subtly nuanced to present a vampire whose existence is far less glamorous and far less romantic than is typical in pop culture. In particular, his reading of Dracula adds so much depth and sympathy to the classic villain with only a few choice words...
One of these days, when the theme’s appropriate, I’m going to do a write-up of Begotten, the movie E. Elias Merhige made about ten years before this. That is one of the single weirdest movies I’ve ever watched--so much so that I'll only recommend it to the exceptionally curious. It’s black & white, it has no music or dialog, it has characters named “God Killing Himself” and “Son of Earth--Flesh on Bone,” it shows disembowelment and necrophilia and the only sound you ever hear is that of crickets chirping and water splashing... so you can imagine. As strange as this and Merhige’s latter serial killer thriller, Suspect Zero get, they're positively mainstream when put next to that.Check out some previous "Weirdies" below...
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Videodrome
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Bubba Ho-Tep
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Santa Claus
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Moonwalker
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Death Race 2000
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: A Scanner Darkly
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Buckaroo Banzai
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Twelve Monkeys
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Dark City
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: The Yellow Submarine