Silent-movie buffs, rejoice! No, your old favorites aren't on their way to the local multiplex. But the next best thing has arrived: "Shadow of the Vampire," a new picture that spins a comic nightmare around the making of "Nosferatu," the 1921 classic that introduced Count Dracula to the silver screen.
"Nosferatu" was directed by German genius F.W. Murnau in the "expressionist" style, using weird and wild images to convey a weird and wild story about a vampire who brings death and destruction to a peace-loving little town. It starred German actor Max Schreck as the monster, whose name was changed to Orlock so the producers wouldn't have to pay copyright fees for Bram Stoker's great "Dracula" novel.
The premise of "Shadow of the Vampire" is that Schreck was an actual vampire, whose price for starring in the movie was a bite of the leading lady's neck after her scenes were filmed. His acting gives Murnau all the authenticity a director could want, but his evil ways cause havoc on the set when he decides to vampirize a few other personnel during the shoot. This is pure fantasy, of course - the real Schreck was a real actor who followed "Nosferatu" with many other films - but it gives a mischievous new twist to the current craze for pictures like "Scream" that spin horror-movie ideas around horror movies themselves.
"Shadow of the Vampire" was directed by E. Elias Merhige, a gifted filmmaker whose 1991 feature "Begotten" was a memorable avant-garde journey into uncharted realms of fear and desire. He stays within the bounds of Hollywood storytelling this time, but scene after scene gains freshness and originality from the imaginative qualities of Steven Katz's screenplay and a host of inventive performances. The best of these come from John Malkovich as Murnau and especially Willem Dafoe as his spooky star, who succeeds brilliantly at the tricky task he takes on here - being an actor playing a vampire playing an actor playing a vampire! Oscar, are you watching?
Rated R; contains violence, drug use, and brief nudity.
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