Shadow of the Vampire

Imagine a director so obsessed that he strives for reality in all aspects of his movie. This is the premise behind Shadow of the Vampire, a fictional look at the making of the 1922 movie Nosferatu. Director F.W. Murnau wanted to make a movie based on Bram Stoker's Dracula but could not obtain the rights from Stoker's widow. He changed the name to Nosferatu and the name of the title character to Count Orlock, played by Max Schreck. Shadow of the Vampire moves on from there. If Murnau wanted a perfect film, then who better to play Orlock than an actual vampire?

The joke here is that in Nosferatu, Schreck (Willem Dafoe, American Psycho, Animal Factory) is an actual vampire. The only person that knows is Murnau (John Malkovich, Being John Malkovich, The Messenger). Murnau tells the crew that Schreck is the ultimate method actor. He wants to immerse himself completely into the role of Orlock by never appearing out of character and shooting all scenes at night. Steven Katz's script superficially resembles Shakespeare in Love. Both closely examine the making of a production, and how the main creators' influence any changes made. Both are comedies, but Shadow of the Vampire is absurdist.

It is fascinating to watch Malkovich direct his crew. What he does probably has some semblance to what actually happens on a movie set. Director E. Elias Merhige (Begotten) details how Murnau wants his shots framed and other aspects of production usually never seen in movies. His main actors, played by Eddie Izzard (Mystery Men, The Circus) and Catherine McCormack (The Debtor's, This Year's Love), probably the most beautiful woman in the movies today, are spoiled prima donnas. They are also completely ill at ease around Schreck, and their initial reactions to him are priceless. Greta (McCormack) has a special reason to be; she does not know that Murnau promised her to Schreck in exchange for his participation in the movie.

Dafoe/Schreck is the clear star here. Malkovich is good, but when his character begins ranting about art it gets to be a little much. Schreck begins to exert his control on the set, defying Murnau at every turn. Murnau thinks he is in control, but he is slowly losing out to Schreck. Dafoe is mesmerizing. He steals every single scene he is in with his darkly comedic performance. Schreck is playing an actor playing a vampire, and sometimes not too well. Then at times, the lure of Hollywood gets to him and he asks for things like make-up. Dafoe looks absolutely disgusting. His Schreck has obscenely long yellow fingernails, buck teeth, has a horrible sneer, and wheezes continuously as he breathes. His body is rail thin and he moves slowly with jerky movements as if he could break any moment, yet he still radiates an aura of dangerous power. Shadow of the Vampire is easily watchable, but Dafoe's performance takes it to another level.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 29 minutes, Rated R for sexuality, drug content, violence, and language.

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