Shadow Of The Vampire

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Movie Review by EDF

Starring: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Eddie Izzard, Udo Kier, Catherine McCormack

Director: E Elias Merhige

If you were a filmmaker and every corner you turned was an obstacle waiting to sabotage the movie you were creating, wouldn’t you want to try to make the movie as brillant as possible? This is exactly what happened with the brilliant German filmmaker Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (John Malkovich) when he was refused permission to film Dracula.

Set during 1921 as a “what if” scenario to real events, this chronicles the making of the famous vampire movie, NOSFERATU. To side step the Bram Stoker estate, Murnau changed the name of the vampire to Count Orlock. The reason for the refusal to turn Dracula into a movie was that the theatre was still viewed as an accepted piece of entertainment and movies were not held in the same esteem. To continue the filming, Murnau moves the production from Berlin to Czechoslovakia where they will meet up with Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) a method actor and will continue filming at Max Schreck’s castle. This is seen as unusual by the rest of the crew, especially as they have never heard of Max Schreck being mentioned before among the acting community.

Arriving at the nearest village, they encounter problems while filming because they have upset the locals by taking down any crosses that were in view during filming. Going up to the castle, co-actor Gustav (Eddie Izzard) has no idea what to expect. While filming Gustav entering the castle Max Schreck slowly creeps out the shadows and invites Gustav in. Following Murnau’s direction during the filming of this scene, Gustav reluctantly follows Schreck in only to come back out in a hurry as soon as the scene ended.

Other complications arise during the filming when cameramen are mysteriously taken ill and Schreck, who films his scenes only at night, refuses to go to the coast to film some scenes on a ship. As a compromise a ship is built in front of the camera to accommodate Schreck. Why does Murnau even bother using a person who obviously has never acted before to play a vampire? Is Max Schreck a real vampire or just someone who is loony enough to think he is one? Is Murnau crazy enough to strike up a deal with Max thinking that he is getting the real deal, even offering up the life of his leading lady, played by Catherine McCormack?

Getting a nod from those lovely people with the gold statues, Willem Dafoe got a Best Supporting Actor Nomination for his role as Max Shreck. He is brilliant at making his character as sympathetic as possible, to a point where you end up forgetting that it is Dafoe under all that makeup. Malkovich as the obsessed director is just right and even Eddie Izzard as the silent screen actor who over expresses his body language when acting is fun to watch. Director E. Elias Merhige does a fantastic job at not only recreating elements of the original movie, but also giving it the look and feel of a 1920’s movie, mainly with the clever use of lighting.

An interesting fact – the Bram Stoker estate successfully sued Murnau and the production company and ordered all copies of Nosferatu to be destroyed. Unknown to the courts, there were two negatives in The Netherlands and two prints in France. If it weren’t for these, a true masterpiece would have been lost forever.

5 out of 6 stars