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:: Shadow Of The Vampire

F.W.Murnau’s 1922 silent vampire film, “Nosferatu” conjures up everlasting images that leave their imprint, with none more so than the sight of the horrific Count Orlock. It’s been hailed as one of the most influential horror films of all time. In a strange projection of what might have occurred during the production of that classic picture, “Shadow Of The Vampire” is a rich, brilliant postmodern concept. We wonder of the “unexplained” details of Murnau’s actual production of “Nosferatu”, which apart from financial burdens and the perceived “Dracula” rip-off included the disappearance of a make-up girl and other strange tales. All incidents that are seemingly mundane can be inspiringly turned into keen fantasy on the relationship between F.W.Murnau and Max Schreck who, in this film, are played respectively by John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe.

Murnau is the ever-obsessive director who is willing to go to any lengths to capture genuine terror from his cast, even if it means hiring a real vampire to play the lead. The unrecognisable Dafoe is brilliantly cast as Max Schreck, a method actor who will only appear on set in full costume and make-up at night. In the mythology of this film, Schreck is a bona fide bloodsucker with whom Murnau cut a deal in order to create an absurd level of authenticity. Dafoe plays the vampire with a mixture of childlike antics and grand gestures, amid quirky humour. The cast and crew raise their eyes at Schreck’s bizarre technique but are suitably impressed. Things get out of hand however. Murnau finds himself losing a battle of nerves with Screck and it’s not long before crewmembers mysteriously fall ill. Murnau knows Schreck’s nasty secret – the two did make that pact – but his conscience is clear. He is willing to do almost anything in the name of making a great movie. 

“Shadow of The Vampire” director E. Elias Merhige uses Murnau’s visual approach as inspiration. There is frequent use of the original film footage but more often Merhige recreates the black and white silent film instead. Not surprisingly, Schreck is more sympathetic than its creator Murnau. The frightening John Malkovich is appropriately glib and nasty throughout. Dafoe is fiercely brave and creepy. The movie excels with the Malkovich-Dafoe interactions. There are terrific character actors assembled, including Udo Kier, as the harassed producer, Cary Elwes as the square-jawed cameraman, comedian Eddie Izzard as the overblown histrionic silent actor, and Catherine McCormack capably filling the role of the temperamental leading lady. 

The director’s approach is all very direct and uncluttered, including some particular fine close-up shots of Dafoe’s sad face. Merhige proves his enormous research efforts by capturing the spirit of the original film and respecting it, with quirky humour, excellent character development and telling visuals. And he rounds it off with an appropriate ending, which underlies its point. “Shadow Of The Vampire” demonstrates fine original filmmaking.