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United Kingdom/USA/Luxembourg 2000
Directed by
E. Elias Merhije
92 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Shadow Of The Vampire

Synopsis: F. W. Murnau (John Malkovich), the German Expressionist director, is making what he regards as a cinematic landmark based on Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'. The lynch-pin of the project is the seriously weird Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) who has been cast as the vampire. The whole production is fraught with tension and anxiety, emotions which Murnau is keen to fan in order to create the authenticity he is maniacally pursuing.

Anyone who has seen F.W. Murnau's silent era classic, Nosferatu: A Symphony Of Horror, has had occasion to wonder at the identity of Max Schreck, the actor who brought to life the unforgettable Count Orlock, probably with the exception of Bela Lugosi's Frankenstein, the most memorable screen monster of all time.

The makers of Shadow of the Vampire have used this question as the springboard for a rather extravagant fantasy about the production of the film, with a degree of historical accuracy unknown to me but probably slight, depicting the crew and cast as a gaggle of drug-addled, sexually perverse neurotics and egomaniacs, albeit relatively normal, compared to the pathologically psychotic Schreck who according to this account really believed himself to be a vampire.

Although the material might be B-grade, with the presence of A-listers John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe in the principal roles, an excellent production design time director and first-time director Merhije achieving a nice balance between the film we are watching and the recreation of the film Murnau is making (typically announced by Murnau's instruction to "iris in" (a few shots from the original film are interpellated) Shadow Of The Vampire is an engaging if somewhat too slight film that particularly with its rather hasty last act doesn't do full justice to its potential  There are opportunities missed such as the Berlin brothel scene and Murnau's night of laudanum-induced derangement (possibly for budgetary reasons), and there is little interaction between the characters other than between Murnau and Schreck and even that is at best schematic. 

Still it is a fun little film with a good deal of the pleasure being in comparing old with new. Above all, however, it is necessary to have seen the original to appreciate Willem Dafoe's marvellous Oscar-nominated performance as Schreck. This alone is well worth the price of the ticket (and Malkovich fans are well-rewarded with a couple of classic tantrums) . Klaus Kinski in Herzog's 1979 remake of Murnau's film, Nosferatu the Vampyr, did a very good imitation of Schreck's Orlock but Dafoe (who has created quite a  few creepy characters in his time, memorably in David Lynch's Wild At Heart in which Nicholas Cage, co-producer here, starred) has brought him back to life (and given him some extra zip).




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