Shadow of the Vampire Review

Nov 04, 2008 | 12:48pm EST

Great German film director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) embarks on a journey to adapt Bram Stoker's "Dracula" to the screen on location in Eastern Europe. With an eccentric cast and crew under his wing the consumed Murnau will stop at nothing to achieve his vision. He hires an unknown actor Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) to portray the title role. The ultimate method actor Schreck will only work at night and arrive on set in complete make-up. As strange occurrences begin to plague the production Murnau realizes he's bitten off more than he can chew when his crew dwindles and his vampire actor threatens to dishonor his end of their "special" arrangement to complete the picture.

Comprised of a rich cast who are clearly having loads of fun with their roles the cherry on top of "Vampire" is Dafoe's devilishly creepy portrayal of Schreck. Clicking his fingernails and stiffly sniffing the human flesh around him his dead-on recreation is the pinnacle reason to see this film. Malkovich's embodiment of the diva director who will sacrifice anything to get his picture made is delightful and Cary Elwes as Fritz Wagner Murnau's over-confident seasoned cinematographer provides smart comic timing. Other players including Morrissey staple Udo Kier (the sweating producer) "Braveheart's" Catherine McCormack (the morphine-addicted leading lady) and stand up comic Eddie Izzard (the straight man who can't act) round out the cast nicely.

Nicely replicating the exciting early days of cinema when cameras were cranked by hand director E. Elias Merhige ("Begotten") truly sinks his teeth into his source material. Employing a variety of techniques from shrinking iris lenses to black and white flutter celluloid Merhige effectively transports the viewer to another time period. Though not a very deep-thinking piece he sucks as much blood as possible from screenwriter Steven Katz' (writer of an early draft of "Interview with the Vampire") clever premise.

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