Shadow of the Vampire
Starring: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Catherine McCormack, Udo Kier, Gary Elwes, Eddie Izzard
Suppose. for a moment, that the great German director, F.W. Murnau, had made a "Faustian" deal with the devil and hired a real vampire to play the lead in his famous silent film classic, "Nosferatu". Now let us suppose that he told his cast and crew that he had hired an unknown actor named Max Schrenk who would appear in full makeup for his scenes, and the film was to be shot on location in Transylvania at night. This is the concept behind director E. Elias Merhige's new film, "Shadow of The Vampire".
One gets the impression that Merhige and his writer, Steven Katz, never quite made up their mind whether this story should be a black comedy or a serious study of the great silent director Murnau. Fortunately, Willem Dafoe's performance as Nosferatu settles the dilemma. Merhige and cinematographer Bogue achieve an eerie setting for the film by recreating the silent classic and the Transylvanian location with a spooky authenticity, Dafoe's appearance leaves little discussion that this will be a most hilarious experience. Dafoe's obvious pleasure in playing this role is infectious. His Nosferatu is filled with "one liners" and comedic quips like, "I think I'll eat the script girl for dinner tonight!' With John Malkovich playing Murnau as a humourless tyrant, one can forget a serious approach to the famous director. Dafoe and Malkovich play off one another like Laurel and Hardy.
The "looks" the cast and crew give Nosferatu's first appearance on the film set are the stuff of great comedy. Murnau's big problem is in controlling the appetite of his Thespian vampire. After attacking the cinematographer during the first week of shooting the aging monster decides that the writer is no longer needed. Murnau has to promise to allow the hungry vampire the pleasure of "feeding" off the leading lady, Greta Schroeder (Catherine McCormick), if he will quell his appetite until the end of the film. Nosferatu agrees with a sly wink to the audience. The laughs may not be what Merhige intended but Dafoe can't help but make this vampire likeable. His ability to forge a truly memorable character through superb heavy make-up is a great compliment to his brilliant acting ability.
The film fails at giving us any insight into the personality and workings of Murnau, and the narrative gets dark and disturbing at the end. But this is, after all, a vampire film. "Shadow of The Vampire" may have its problems but the performance of Dafoe is worth the trip.
As promised, at the film's finish, the vampire gets the leading lady. Dafoe could get an Oscar as well.