Film Review: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Also known as: Burned to Light (working title)
Release Date: May 15th, 2000 (Cannes)
Directed by: E. Elias Merhige
Written by: Steven Katz
Music by: Dan Jones
Cast: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Cary Elwes, John Aden Gillet, Eddie Izzard, Udo Kier, Catherine McCormack, Ronan Vibert

Saturn Films, Long Shot Pictures, BBC Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Death of centuries! Moonchaser! Blasphemer! Monkey! Vase of prehistory. Finally to Earth, and finally born.” – F. W. Murnau

I don’t know what it is about Nosferatu but every film within its grasp is great, whether that’s the original 1922 silent film, the 1979 remake or this, a movie that appears to be a biopic about F. W. Murnau and the production of the original Nosferatu but is actually a fictional reimagining that makes Murnau a vicious tyrant behind the camera and his star a real vampire.

Obviously, this isn’t the true story of the making of Nosferatu but it is one hell of a fun ride through an alternate dimension. It’s also well written, stupendously acted and features incredible makeup, great set recreations, as well as several tropes and techniques from the silent era reworked with great care into this modern picture.

I love this film and from the moment I saw it in 2001 or so, it quickly became one of my all-time favorite vampire pictures. It also solidified my love and respect for the talents of John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe. In fact, Dafoe would get an Academy Award nomination for this role. The film was also nominated for makeup.

Beyond those two, the rest of the cast is also superb. I especially liked Udo Kier in this and it’s one of my favorite roles he’s played over his very long and storied career. Additionally, Eddie Izzard, Catherine McCormack, Cary Elwes and Aden Gillet all put in memorable performances, each adding so much complexity and nuance to the overall production.

The director, E. Elias Merhige, hasn’t done a whole lot over the years and the only other film of his I’ve seen is Suspect Zero. I remember enjoying it at the time but this movie is certainly his magnum opus. I’m not sure why he doesn’t make more movies but as great as this one is, his lack of motion pictures feels like a great loss for cinema.

Shadow of the Vampire is pretty close to perfect from top-to-bottom and it’s just a neat, clever story featuring one of the best monsters that has ever graced the silver screen. Dafoe actually is perfect and the brightest spot in this already bright film. Malkovich is damn good, as well, and the two have incredible chemistry. They’re both villainous and it’s just interesting watching this play out, trying to see which one is the greater villain, overall.

In real life, however, Murnau was said to be great to work for and a very sensitive artist. Also, Max Schreck wasn’t a blood sucking murderer, as he’d go on to live a married life while enjoying success in many films outside of just Nosferatu.

Despite this not being real, it makes me wish that there were more movies like this. Films that would take something really cool from history and just do something bonkers but respectable with it.

Although, I guess that’s what makes this motion picture so unique and so special. It truly feels like one of a kind and it was crafted with a genuine love of the original film it tapped into.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the two Nosferatu movies, as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula.