I know what you're all going to say: "Dammit, Adam! Vampires AGAIN?" What can I say, I love the fanged bastards. There's just an allure to them that I can't escape.
Last year, I reviewed Nosferatu the Vampyre (or Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht), a 1979 remake of F.W. Murnau's 1922 silent film Nosferatu, which itself was based on Bram Stoker's novel Dracula with certain details changed to avoid a lawsuit which happened anyway. Confused yet? Stick with me, because this is great.
Rather than simply remake Nosferatu again for modern audiences, the filmmakers decided to take the story in an all new direction, putting forth the idea that Murnau's production was so successful due to the director's obsession with perfection, to the point where he hired a real, live(ish) vampire to play the title role. Let's take a look at 2000's Shadow of the Vampire.
Our story begins on a film set in Germany, where director F.W. Murnau is completing interior studio shots for his new film, Nosferatu, before moving on to shoot on location in Czechoslovakia. Murnau's secrecy regarding the Czech production causes his producer, cast, and crew significant distress, but he drives them on, madly determined to commit his ambitious vision to film. Before they depart, Murnau informs his crew that the film's villainous vampire will be played by an extreme method-actor named Max Schreck, and that Schreck will only ever appear to the cast and crew in full costume and makeup as Count Orlock, never breaking character.
From the moment they arrive in Czechoslovakia, the crew are immediately uneasy, but nothing prepares them for the eccentric Schreck, whose on-set antics disturb everyone he comes into contact with. Over the course of several days, the cameraman falls severely ill, finally collapsing on set after a particularly intense scene involving Schreck. Murnau struggles to keep his cast and crew together while also doing everything within his power to placate the impatient vampire in his employ. As the final sequence approaches and their deal reaches its conclusion, tensions between Schreck and Murnau escalate.
Shadow of the Vampire takes the idea of a remake and turns it completely on its head, making instead a kind of meta-mockumentary. While we know the real Max Schreck wasn't really a misshapen vampire, his performance in the original silent film was so chilling, his appearance so alien, that it makes the idea of Murnau hiring a real vampire for the sake of authenticity an entertaining if not plausible idea.
Willem Dafoe is absolutely marvelous as the villainous Schreck. While the 1979 remake's Klaus Kinski gave the Count a colder, more reptilian portrayal than the real-life Schreck did, Dafoe adds a little bit of the demented pervert to the role. Probably my favorite scene in the entire film is when Schreck is drinking and conversing with the film's producers, musing over how sad and lonely Stoker's novel made him feel. For this one, fleeting moment, you begin to feel sympathy for the undead bloodsucker. Not all of the acting in this movie is gold, but Dafoe's definitely shines.
Shadow of the Vampire is fun and darkly comedic without resorting to goofiness... well, until Cary Elwes' character shows up, that is. I wouldn't call this Mr. Elwes' finest hour, but I refuse to let that stand in the way of a good film. Is it perfect? Nah, but again... it's fun. I think they could have drawn out Schreck preying on the cast and crew, but maybe that would be meddling with history too much to suspend disbelief. Give this one a watch, but don't think for a second that it's a worthy substitute for the 1922 original or 1979 remake. Don't just settle for the Cliffs Notes, experience them all for yourself.