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SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (2000)
Starring: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Cary Elwes, Eddie Izzard, Udo Kier, Catherine McCormack, and Eddie Izzard
Directed by E. Elias Merhige
Nominated for two Academy Awards:
Best Supporting Actor, William Dafoe
The legendary horror film NOSFERATU has been considered one of the most greatest and terrifying horror film in the several decades since its been released. It has been considered the Grandfather of vampire films, and certainly one of the best of its kind. There are many images in the film that would cause the most hardcore cynic to shiver, and the most avid horror film fanatics to turn on the lights during a viewing. It is a powerfully gripping and poetic film that has stood the test of time superbly. And now director Merhige and screenwriter Steven Katz has woven together a delicious fictionalized story about what went on behind the scenes of the making of the film. And for true film buffs and die hard fans of the 1922 classic, this will certainly be a treat worth watching.
The story is simple enough, as director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich), his filming his sympathy of horror. There have been problems from the get go, as the film was originally suppose to be based on Bram Stokerís popular novel, Dracula, but due to his estate refusing to allow the studio to adapt the story, they decided to alter it. The vampire in the film will not be named Dracula, but Orlock. Murnau is a man who likes to keep his cast and crew in the dark concerning his future plans for the film, but the biggest mystery is who is playing the vampire. Murnau already has a few scenes of the film shot, and is relocating everyone to a remote little area in which they are to film in an old abandoned monastery that has been condemned for many years. Living inside the crumbling building is Max Shreck, who Murnau explains is a very dedicated method actor who not gone out of character for quite some time. He will be in make-up all the time while in front of the crew, and will not go out of character. Finally, everyone is introduced to the menacing looking creature who is to play Orlock (played brilliantly by an unrecognizable William Dafoe). Dafoe snarls, has an evil glare and hideously long fingernails. Though the cast and crew are amazed by what they see, itís what they donít know that is much more horrifying. Murnau, so loyal to the project he will do almost anything, has made a rather diabolical pact with the fiendish looking Shreck. And that is as long as the shooting of the film goes on without any interruptions, Shreck can have he take on those he wishes to kill (a very enjoyable scene has the two debating on whether the screenwriter, Henrik Galeen, is expendable or not). By the end, Murnauís madness to his obsession is seen fully, and the monster of Max Shreck cannot be erased from memory.
The film is a clever and witty spin on the making of such a classic film, and those who have seen the 1922 masterpiece will probably marvel in delight with several scenes that show the creation of a few memorable moments. NOSFERATU was more then the average horror film, it was a film of great beauty and tragedy, and the final scene is perhaps one of the greatest moments ever filmed in all of cinemas history. Anybody who has seen the film knows what kind of film it is. It has a hypnotic hold on the audience and in its captivating and timeless horror; there lies a beautiful and stunning devastation that has a long lasting effect. This film, unlike that one, is not meant to be horrific. Itís meant to entertain and to amuse. There are several comical scenes and many scenes of intense intrigue, especially, again, for those who know about the original story.
The performances are all extraordinary, with Malkovich dishing up a great performance as the mad director whose compassion for human life and decency is obliterated by the sheer dedication to his film. The audience has fan joining in with his obsession to capture death at its most terrifying moment. William Dafoe serves up one of the greatest performances of his career, as he plays Max Shreck with such magic that I couldnít help but wonder how he himself got into the legendary role. His Oscar nomination is well deserved, and his performance is indeed the films highlights, though he is but one of many elements that help create the atmospheric mood of the film. But there is no denying that he is Max Shreck, this diabolical vampire who some have believe actually was a vampire in real life. From the clinking of his grotesquely long fingernails to the way he walks around hunched over, yet always appears to be above everyone else, is just a joy to watch.
Other enjoyable performances are from Catherine McCormack as the object of Dafoeís obsession. She plays actress Greta Schroder, who enjoys whining and morphine. Udo Kier as producer Albin Grau, Cary Elwes as cameraman Fritz Wagner, and Eddie Izzard as actor Gustav von Wangenheim.
Definitely one of 2000ís best and most entertaining films, but for Godís sakes, rent NOSFERATU if you have yet to see it. Perhaps this film will peak your interest.
My Grade: A