Shadow of the Vampire |


Willem Dafoe, John Malkovich, ...

CLAWS AND EFFECTS Malkovich directs ''Vampire'' Dafoe (Jean-Paul Kieffer)

What if the guy you hired to play a bloodsucker really was one? That’s the fantasy premise of this movie biz tale, which freely reimagines behind the scenes battles on the 1922 silent German thriller ”Nosferatu.” Malkovich, in a voluptuous toupee, plays director F.W. Murnau, a headstrong gay auteur who, in this version of events, thinks nothing of jeopardizing his cast to get results. His attempt to play Svengali to star Max Schreck (Dafoe) soon backfires in ways that spoof contemporary movie star politics.

”It’s not just an homage,” says director Merhige, hired by producers Nicolas Cage and Jeff Levine on the strength of a film he’d made as a college student. ”I’m using Murnau and Schreck as a metaphor for the cinema itself, for art making. Schreck murdered himself to become someone else.” That description of acting sounds about right to Dafoe. ”I often seek a mask of some sort,” he explains. ”It’s a filter that frees you up so you aren’t so bound to your view of things.” GOOD SIGN A source at distributor Lions Gate Films (”Gods and Monsters”) believes ”we’d have to work pretty hard to f— up an Oscar nomination for Willem.” THEN AGAIN Indie fare isn’t as Oscar chic as it was a few years back.