Shadow of the Vampire
is a film full of good ideas that are only partially developed. Clever, engaging, and boosted by the sublime casting of Willem Dafoe as Nosferatu
"actor" Max Schreck, its premise is ripe with possibilities but the movie's too slight to register much impact: characters remain achingly underdeveloped and the whole lacks a sense of pace or structure. What's left, however, is enough for anyone to get their teeth into: the delightful performances from a sterling cast and director E Elias Merhige's affectionately tongue-in-cheek homage to a landmark of German silent cinema. John Malkovich is aptly loony as the eccentric director FW Murnau, whose passion in filming the 1922 classic Nosferatu
leads to the extreme casting of Schreck as the vampire, a vision of evil who, in this movie's delightfully twisted imagination, actually is a vampire, sucking the blood of cast and crew members who've dismissed Schreck as an over-zealous method actor.
As these on-set maladies and "accidents" continue, Schreck wields greater control over Murnau, who descends into a kind of obsessive art-for-art's-sake madness until diva co-star Greta Schroeder (Catherine McCormack, doing wonderful work) is served up as the actor's ultimate motivation. Merhige and his actors (including Cary Elwes, as intrepid cameraman Fritz Wagner) have great fun with this ghastly escapade, and the humour is kept delicately subtle to balance the movie's artistic aspirations. To that end, Dafoe is just right, his bald pate and gaunt features a perfect match for the mysterious Schreck, his grimace and talon-like fingers suggesting a human vulture on the prowl. Likewise, the re-creation of Nosferatu's expressionist style is both fanciful and brilliantly authentic. Too bad, then, that this movie suffers from a case of vampiric anaemia, with budgetary shortcomings apparently the cause of at least some of its shortcomings; if Shadow of the Vampire shared the depth and richness of, say, Ed Wood, it might have been a cult classic for the ages. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com