F. W. Murnau’s silent classic Nosferatu (1922) has inspired this wonderfully warped and highly speculative fiction about the making of the first real vampire movie. Produced by Nicolas Cage (who played a blood-sucker in Vampire’s Kiss), and wittily scripted by Stephen Katz, Shadow of the Vampire’s intriguing premise is that director Murnau entered into a Faustian pact with a real vampire to play the role of Count Orloc, the hideously gaunt, otherworldly figure immortalised by the remarkable Max Schreck. Using the making of Nosferatu as its starting point, director E. Elias Merhinge’s film embarks on a wholly absorbing and often very funny meditation on creativity, obsession and the sheer lunacy of filmmaking.
As the film begins, Murnau (John Malkovich) and his crew are wrapping a studio shoot in Berlin. Thank God, an end to this artifice! says the director, who can’t wait to film on authentic locations and with a real vampire. Amusingly,
Murnau tells his crew not to be disturbed by the odd behaviour of Schreck (Willem Dafoe), explaining that he is the ultimate Method actor and will appear only in character and only at night. Murnau’s colleagues are unaware that he has
promised Schreck the blood of the leading actress
(Catherine McCormack) once filming is successfully completed. The question is whether Murnau can finish his masterpiece before his cast and creware reduced to corpses.
Shadow of the Vampire has a lot of fun with its central conceit, but it also pays due homage to its inspiration, recreating many of Nosferatu’s most memorable scenes with great skill. There are also some sharp observations on the nature of cinema and performance, including the suggestion that the camera itself is a kind of vampire. A theatrical audience gives me life, while this thing merely takes it from me, says the actress of Murnau’s camera. Shadow’s own cast enter into the bizarre spirit of the piece with commendable enthusiasm. Malkovich is excellent as the manipulative director who will do anything to realise his vision, while the supporting players (including Eddie Izzard, Cary Elwes and veteran horror movie star Udo Kier) are all strong. But the film’s trump card is Dafoe’s extraordinary turn as the vampire, which will hopefully be recognised as the forthcoming Academy Awards.
Dolby digital stereo.