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The Name's Dr. Acula.

by Andrew Green

And now, for now good reason, here's a vampire movie (sort of).

You know it's at least half good because it has John Malkovich.

Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Netflix description:
"A wicked movie about the making of the 1922 silent-film classic Nosferatu, Shadow of the Vampire features Willem Dafoe's Oscar-nominated performance. Director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) yearns to create the most terrifying vampire tale imaginable. Unknown actor Max Schreck (Dafoe), cast as the vampire Count Orlock, makes an impressive debut as filming begins, even as he hides an unearthly secret."

OK, so many of us have seen the iconic silent film, Nosfaratu. Well, apparently there was once a rumor that the guy who played the title vampire in that movie, Max Schreck, really WAS a vampire, because he was so convincing in the role. Shadow of the Vampire is based off of that concept. Visionary director F.W. Murnau takes his cast and crew to a spooky castle someplace in Czechoslovakia to shoot his little undead opus, and bizarre things start to happen. The actor who's supposed to play the vampire scares everyone, as he's constantly in character, lurking about the castle at all hours of the night, sucking the blood out of rodents and bats, and reciting morbid poetry. Kinda strange. Makes one wonder about him. Could it be that he is really IS among the ranks of the undead? OR, is he just an exceptionally dedicated method actor?

Here, we have a film that starts off as a remarkably interesting depiction of Nosfaratu's production, but eventually turns into a barely passable monster mystery. I found Shadow of the Vampire to be highly engaging for the first two acts, as we examine the world of silent filmmaking, and get a glimpse of some of the early auteurs who turned the medium into the art form it is today. However, once the "Is-He-Or-Isn't-He?" dynamic is kicked into full gear regarding Herr Schreck, the picture loses much of its magic. I would have enjoyed this film much more if it had been a more straightforward retelling of how Nosfaratu was made. That would have been a compelling enough topic to fill 90 minutes on its own.

Luckily, inspired performances from virtually everyone in the cast manage to sustain Shadow of the Vampire through its weaker scenes.John Malkovich is in top form; we've got a charming turn from Eddie Izzard; and Cary Elwes hasn't been this dashing since The Princess Bride. Also, I'm not sure whether Willem Defoe's depiction of Max Schreck is brilliant, or ridiculous, but either way, I loved it. As a possible creature of the night gone Hollywood, he makes the movie worth watching. Shadow of the Vampire may fall somewhat short of living up to its early signs of promise, but there's still enough here to make it a solid experience.

3 out of 5.