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Director: E. Elias Merhige
Writer: Steven Katz
Producers: Nicolas Cage and Jeff Levine
Cast: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack, Eddie Izzard

Rating: out of 5

Hearkening back to the classic 1922 silent film NOSFERATU, directed by F.W. Murnau, SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE fictitiously delves into the mysterious actor Max Schreck (Dafoe), who played the original Nosferatu. Because Murnau could not get the rights to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he changed the title and character names. In this historical fiction narrative, Schreck does not merely act the part of a vampire; he is a real blood-sucking creature. This poses a slight problem for the cast and crew. While on location, the cameraman becomes deathly ill due to Schreck’s impulsive feeding frenzy during mid-shoot. While a new cameraman (Elwes) comes on board and Murnau (Malkovich) goes abroad to take care of financial problems, the crew becomes suspicious of their fellow cast member’s method of acting.

Around this time the audience learns Murnau has been made clandestine promises to Schreck, allowing the vampire to have leading lady Greta Schroeder (McCormack) after their final scene together. Throughout the film, Murnau and Schreck engage in a power struggle with Murnau constantly beseeching the vampire not to “drain” his cast. As the crew gets wise, Murnau escapes into a laudanum- (Edgar Allen Poe’s drug of choice) induced stupor to evade the repercussions of hiring a blood-thirsty vampire to play one.

Struggling to film the ending of NOSFERATU and make it out of their island location alive, Murnau and his surviving crew hatch a dubious plan. In order to appease Schreck, Murnau gives him Greta to feed on and stages several delays in order to allow the sun to rise (the sun’s rays being a noted way to kill a vampire). The plan goes awry when Schreck goes on a sucking-spree and begins killing the remaining cast. Finally, one of the remaining crew members opens the door to the outside and lets the sun literally burn Nosferatu to light while Murnau catches the gruesome ordeal on film. “If it’s not in the frame it doesn’t exist,” Murnau states to justify the documentation of his crew’s deaths.

Interestingly enough, the film’s previous title was BURNED TO LIGHT, which seems like a more fitting title. The title SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE just tries too hard to be mysterious and to imply depth when the movie scrapes the surface. The movie doesn’t give enough background on Schreck’s character or his origins. Also, the film didn’t deserve its ending. Highly implausible, even more so than the actual film, Schreck just goes on a killing spree at the end.

To the film’s credit, Malkovich and Dafoe give convincing performances. Malkovich does well portraying the obsessed, intellectual Murnau and alluding to his sex and drug abuse. Dafoe, never departing from the Nosferatu character, gives goose bumps as he grabs a bat flying around him in one scene, quickly sucks its blood, and then tosses it on the ground like a used napkin. I would suggest this film as a good Halloween treat, but due to the slated winter release you’ll have to rent it next October.

—Jennifer Prestigiacomo

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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