Friday, September 2, 2011

The Cynic Reviews Shadow of the Vampire

Author's Note: Lately, I've been trying to only review movies movies that are somewhat new, and I swear that I will more or less keep to that. However, I recently saw a movie so striking that I felt like Ihad to review it. So forgive me for writing about something that's eleven years old.

My name is Aidan, and I hate vampire movies. Okay, so there are a few flicks out there that are pretty good (Cronos for the "serious" film conniseurs, Daybreakers for those of you who are... less serious*), but this subgenre of horror has for the most part been overrun by god awful, whiny, inane crap that trat their audiences like they're drooling idiots. It's no matter to me that the audiences for these things are drooling idiots; you can't move anywhere if you don't reach for a higher bar. Look, you can cater to a broad, mainstream audience without sacrificing any semblance of intelligence your concept may have had; the public's not that stupid, guys!

But this wasn't always the case. In fact, my favorite horror movie of all time is a vampire movie: F.W. Murnau's 1922 masterpiece Nosferatu. Count Orlock is still one of the scariest looking movie monsters ever created, and Murnau's use of shadow to heighten the tension is pure genius. If you haven't seen it, I first would like to ask you what rock you've been living under all this time, and then urge you to go out and see it. Just be wary of what cut you get; the film was butchered for the silver in the film stock and despite a lengthy restoration process, most versions still use the bad cut (google it for more info).

So why am I saying this? After all, I'm not reviewing Nosferatu, am I? But you see, you first need to be familiar with that film before watching Shadow of the Vampire. The concept is simple but fascinating: it suggests that Max Schreck (the actor who played the Count Orlock) was more than just a convincing actor aided by some very creative makeup. In Shadow, Schreck is a real vampire that Murnau (John Malkovich) found in Czechoslovakia and paid to play an actor playing a vampire.

The story is brilliantly executed by director E. Elias Merhinge, and boasts an impressive cast that includes Malkovich, Carey Elwes, and Eddy Izzard (playing it totally straight; and in men's clothing, no less) who are all very good, but the real treat here is Willem Defoe as Schreck. The scariest part of this movie is just how much Defoe looks like Schreck here, and he copies his moves so perfectly that when they intercut scenes from Nosferatu with footage from Shadow, it's almost impossible to tell the difference between the two. But Defoe truly shines in the scenes that take place outside filming ofNosferatu, where he gets a chance to create his own character off of where Murnau left off. You cannot take your eyes off him; it's the best I've ever seen him, the kind of performance you truly have to see to believe. He was nominated for an Oscar for this film, and rightly so. The mystery here is why he didn't win.

Bottom line: if you, as I have, are longing for an intelligent, highbrow horror film that treats its audience like adults, then by all means see this movie. You won't be disappointed. I had no idea I would like Shadow of the Vampire as much as I did. But I guess that makes me all the more glad that I finally saw it. Grade: A

*I mean no disrespect to Daybreakers; I thought it was pretty damn good, and was surprised at how maturely they executed their concept.surprised at how maturely they executed their concept.

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