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Happy New Year!

“The script girl…I’ll eat her later.” – Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe)

As mentioned in a recent post, Shadow of the Vampire is a film that I strongly recommend if you are interested in learning more about the myth behind Max Schreck, the German actor who portrayed Count Orlok in the original classic silent film Nosferatu:  A Symphony of Horror.

Shadow of the Vampire is directed by E. Elias Merhige, a director whom I was not familiar with before this film.  It stars Willem Dafoe as the mysterious Max Schreck, a method actor who has a reputation for delving deep into the characters that he portrays, so much so that it puts him at odds with F.W. Murnau, portrayed brilliantly by John Malkovich, and the other members of the cast and crew.  It was the first production of Saturn Films which was co-founded by Nicolas Cage.  Saturn Films would later produce another vampire film called Underworld: Awakening from the famous vampire vs. werewolf series, as well as other well-known films and TV shows.

The general public doesn’t often react well to films that are about the making of other films, even classic ones.  However, Shadow of the Vampire is focused on the actors and creators of the film, rather than the actual filming of the movie itself.  This makes the film more interesting, and it’s a history lesson as well as an interesting character study.  I enjoy history, so I don’t normally have an issue with films about the making of films, especially when it comes to such an iconic vampire film as Nosferatu.

“Did I kill…some of your people, Murnau?  I can’t remember.” – Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe)

Shadow of the Vampire works upon the premise that, unbeknownst to the cast and crew, Max Schreck is not an actor but a vampire hired by Murnau to add an uncanny authenticity to the role.  Murnau knows that Schreck is a vampire, but Murnau’s nightmare begins when things go crazy on the set and crew members start to disappear.

Shadow is a brilliant example of film noir.  It shows the condition of vampirism in a unique, stylish and artsy way, but in a more direct and down to earth fashion.  Many art films about vampires have a tendency to be extremely abstract and vague.  Some vampire films are shot with the use of cold, blue filters that remove the viewer from the story and make it difficult for the audience to connect with the characters.  S.O.T.V. doesn’t do that.  The film has a warmth about it not often felt when watching vampire films.  The cinematography is intimate and inclusive.  It makes you feel like you are there, sharing the filming experience of Nosferatu with the cast and crew.  The interiors of the charming inns where some of the scenes of the filming of Nosferatu happen are cozy and inviting.  The castle scenes and the areas inside the vampire’s lair are especially enthralling.  The movie was filmed in Luxembourg, doubling for Germany and Czechoslovakia (The Czech Republic).

“Tell me how you would harm me, when even I don’t know how I can harm myself.” – Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe)

Be warned!  There is no romance here.  No excessive violence and gore.  The sinister tones are balanced well with moments of dark humor exemplified in the quotes throughout this post.  The main relationship exists between the two main characters, Murnau and Schreck, as it should be.  There are no side plots or distractions that take the viewer away from the main point of the film.  The vampire wants something, but he begrudgingly needs the director to get it and likewise vice versa.  It’s a tense relationship of convenience for both and it makes for a very entertaining story.

The film is driven by the great screenplay by Steven Katz who won the Bram Stoker Award for his writing (Imagine that!) and the powerhouse acting of Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich.  Dafoe was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of the vampire Max Schreck.  I have never seen Malkovich finer as an actor than he is here.  The same can be said for Dafoe, but I haven’t seen his work as Vincent van Gogh in the 2018 film At Eternity’s Gate which is high on my ‘must see’ list.  Merhige was nominated for a C.I.C.A.E. award at the Cannes Film Festival for his directing.  The movie won many international film awards as well as some Hollywood awards specific to the industry.

I have an original poster of the film that I proudly frame and display on the wall.  Now if they would only release it on Blu-ray in Region A with lots of great bonus materials, and at an affordable price.

I suggest a viewing of Shadow of the Vampire if you want to feel that cozy, old-fashioned vampire nostalgia.

Until next time…lock your doors, light the candles and keep the garlic close to the bedside.