Shadow of the Vampire

Rated: R
Stars: Willem Dafoe, John Malkovich

Shadow of a Vampire is a bloody good show! It takes us back to 1921 when German film director F.W. Murnau conceived the idea of giving the world its first taste of vampire creepiness with his now classic Nosferatu.

In his brilliantly original premise, screenwriter Steven Katz would have us believe that Murnau hired a real vampire, passed him off as actor Max Schreck and cut a deal with him to star in the film for the price of the leading lady’s blood.

This is a stylish romp that incorporates some of the original film footage with beautifully realized period costume and sets. The old crank cameras used by Murnau and cameraman are just wonderful.

Murnau (John Malkovich) is portrayed as a crazed control freak, keeping his producer and crew in the dark over many of his arrangements. Part of the filming has already been done and now they’re all curious about the part of the vampire. So Murnau concocts his story of the little known actor named Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) who is so masterful that he stays in character all the time and will appear to the crew only in full makeup and costume … and filming will only take place at night. While the crew and lead actor Gustav (Eddie Izzard) find this news odd, they go with the flow. After all, who’s to question the master himself, F.W. Murnau, a genius of the German cinema?

Murnau’s got his hands full trying to get the filming completed while at the same time trying to quell Schreck’s blood lust. Schreck’s tactic is to convince Murnau that certain crewmembers are no longer needed. In typical moviemaking fashion, the first suggestion is to sacrifice the poor writer. But Schreck gets ahead of himself and in one quick moment as the lights on the set dim, the first victim falls prey to the vampire’s will, that of Murnau’s precious cameraman.

A replacement must quickly be found. While the cast and crew await Murnau’s return, along with the arrival of leading lady Greta Schroeder (Catherine McCormack), tensions rise as each person feels an uneasiness around Schreck.

Dafoe is glorious as the hideous, almost deformed Schreck, clicking his elongated fingernails in contemplation over his next course of action and thoughtfully delivering the film’s funniest lines. But never once does he nor director E. Elias Merhige turn this into a comedy spoof. It’s a serious take on an absurd premise and it’s handled with great respect even to the last moment when Schreck commands the final action, quenching his thirst with Greta just before the sun takes its revenge.

Also features Cary Elwes as Fritz and Udo Kier as Albin.

Lotta says
Shadow of the Vampire is brilliant. Malkovich and, especially Dafoe, rule.

Reviewed 1/8/01