It's DAY 24 of David Ames' Vampire themed Hallow-vent Calendar as he counts the days until our favourite spooky celebration of the year - HALLOWE'EN! Behind today's window is Shadow of the Vampire...
F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic Nosferatu is widely considered to be the greatest vampire movie of all time. Max Schreck’s portrayal of Count Orlock is so heralded and so convincing that many have posited whether or not Schreck was really human at all. This idea is toyed with in dramatic and hysterical fashion in E. Elias Merhige’s 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire which looks at the making of Nosferatu and all of the twisted, dark, and unhinged shenanigans that took place for Murnau and Schreck to create such a masterpiece.
Shadow of the Vampire follows the creation and filming of Nosferatu from pre-production to the conclusion of filming. Murnau, a known eccentric, has just started to pull together a new project and he enlists the help of several of his closest work associates as well as some premium talent to help launch this new horror movie into success. As the producer and other members of the team discuss the lead role of Count Orlock, Gustave, a famous silent film star and the man who will play Jonathan Harker in the film, lets the small group know that Mx Schreck will play the titular role. He is a very eccentric and unique character actor who completely becomes his character for the film: he will never be out of makeup or costume.
Once filming actually begins, everyone on set is both unsettled and shocked by the brilliance of Schreck’s portrayal. Meanwhile, people from the set begin to fall ill and Murnau must finally confront the vampire about his feeding habits, positing, “Why the writer? Why not…the…script girl?” Murnau knows that he is playing a dangerous game with a monster but all he really cares about is the success of the film so people can die, as long as they aren’t important to the production.
Finally, after more problems surrounding the film come to light, Murnau comes clean to his team about Schreck’s true nature. The final scene comes, where Schreck feeds on the main female lead, Greta Schroeder, whom he has developed quite a lust and hunger for, and Murnau and his team have decided to let Schreck have her so that they can kill him and survive. The ending is hilarious and also incredibly dark so check it out and enjoy!
This film is one of my favorites of the genre and deserves an incredible amount of praise for the shooting, writing, and direction. The comedy is inherent in the film, as all great dry comedies are, and the black humor they are able to capture is damn near unrivaled in any other film I’ve seen. The way that Merhige plays with his actors and the dialogue creates a genuinely hysterical film based on something that is objectively terrible.
The acting is the best part of the film by a long shot. John Malkovich is sublime as Murnau, fully capturing the deranged, eccentric, and obsessive director in all his glory. Malkovich is so convincing as Murnau that when he loses his cool and begins shouting things like “Die, you fucking rat bastard vampire!” it is as believable as it is comical. Eddie Izzard is great as Gustave and his sense of wit really plays well into the classic prissy actor archetype. Murnau’s crew, played by John Aden Gillet, Udo Kier, Ronan Vibert, and later Cary Elwes are perfect for their roles and they provide a lot of the ancillary comedy in the film.
The last person deserves his very own section. Willem Defoe portrayed Schreck in such magnificent fashion that he earned an Oscar Nomination for his work. His character is quirky, constantly rattling his fingernails together, sniffing rat-like at the air, or pushing his buckteeth out of his mouth. He is both scary and hilariously sad. In Defoe’s portrayal we are not only given a glimpse at a monster; we are also treated to a creature who is so sad and lonely and has forgotten all about the everyday life a man can lead. Defoe creates this character and adds little elements of actor ego (“I would like some makeup.”) to make the performance believable and undeniably genius. In fact, my favorite part of the film is when the crew and Schreck are sitting around a bonfire drinking and Schreck is waxing poetic about the sadness and loneliness of being a vampire when a bat flies by. Schreck catches it in midair and drinks its blood. Instead of eliciting a horrified response, the men simply continue to acknowledge how much genius is in the performance Schreck is giving. I have to agree. Defoe should have won this year.
This film is so underrated by people, mainly because many have never heard of it. It has received incredible reviews and has a wonderful rating on rotten tomatoes. If you have had enough of serious films this October, check out Shadow of the Vampire and laugh your ass off with the rest of us.
Follow David on Twitter @TheDavidMAmes
Find the rest of the Hallow-vent Calendar entries
Image - IMDb