Rarely does a movie prevail upon two roles so that both assume significance of lead as does this, E. Elias Merhige’s, Shadow of the Vampire. The execution of Steven Katz’s script and its interpretation by Merhige cannot receive enough accolade. The casting of Willem Defoe as Max Schreck/Nosferatu and John Malkovich as the increasingly self-absorbed, “Dr.” Murnau, assure this film a pivotal place in the illustrative history of cinema making. The beautiful Catherine McCormack, as the ill-fated Greta Schroder, the always remarkable Udo Kier, as the producer, Grau; and the splendid performance of Eddie Izzard, as Gustav, are just more icing on the cake.
Watching the vampire in the Nosferatu of 1922, it is hardly inconceivable that one might wonder “from whence its actor came”. But in, The Shadow of the Vampire, the origin of the role’s actor, Max Schreck (Defoe) is portrayed to take vast advantage of that wonderment, setting this film’s horror element upon standards of its own. Indeed, members of Dr. Murnau’s company keep asking that very same question throughout. Like one might ask from where the cold chill on the back of everyone’s neck comes.
Such a script, of another movie’s production, which departs in storyline but still retains the integrity of the other, is no small feat. Making Defoe up just like the Nosferatu vampire and granting him the ability of speech makes its own demands for a superior level of delivery since the imagination viewers might possess can and does create larger than life imagery (which this classic vampire brought about.) Defoe succeeds magnificently while Malkovich makes his character’s gifted obsession for a cinematic masterpiece more credible than viewers might wish it to be.
The period of movie making for the setting of this movie is justifiably phrased film’s, Golden Age. Some might recall how its treatment by German movie-makers of its era helped earn it that distinction, but directors such as the actual Murnau and M’s Fritz Lang are examples. The effects of Lang’s M were so lasting, Peter Lorre (playing the role of the child killer, Hans Beckert,) had to leave Germany. So the mark is set high for the expectations this movie must meet. That it does is evident; that it exceeds it is spectacular.
Camera work is part of this success, make-up artistry is another. Both the idea for the script and its excellent detail and storyline provide direction with elements hard to muddle but director Merhige utilizes them with a creativity of his own.
An absolute for all vampire movie buffs and for anyone wishing for their horror movie to be more than orchestrated mayhem.
Parental discretions advised, some very brief partial nudity though, in the strictest sense, tasteful.