Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October Horror Fest #5: SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE

This is an interesting film. It's a somewhat-fictionalized account of the filming of Nosferatu, the infamous 1922 German adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. The rumors and speculations surrounding that film have all the makings of a Hollywood movie, so it's a wonder it took almost 80 years to make it happen. Nicolas Cage's Saturn Films produced, with donations made online from private individuals being rewarded with a "virtual producer" credit on the DVD.

This movie works very well on multiple levels. The casting is brilliant; Malkovich as the egomaniacal perfectionist director F.W. Murnau is wonderfully fitting, and no one but Willem Dafoe could play the inimitably creepy and downright repulsive Max Schreck (who has to pull double duty, playing Schreck who is playing the character Graf Orlock). The legend goes that while Murnau was scouting locations in Eastern Europe for Nosferatu, he found Schreck living in a decrepit castle feeding on the blood of rodents. Stranger than fiction...

Shadow Of The Vampire is a wonderful ode to the era of silent film. The recreated scenes from Nosferatu are shot in black-and-white, but the rest of the movie is drenched in dark hues and stark angles. This maintains the atmosphere and theme of the whole idea. While there are a few moments of dark humor, all the actors are playing their roles straight here, which adds to the feeling of a genuine horror movie. The outstanding cast is rounded out by genuine talent like Cary Elwes, Udo Kier, Eddie Izzard and Catherine McCormack.

Dafoe lost out on the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor to Benicio Del Toro (Traffic) that year, so one can't really say he was robbed, but his performance was definitely worthy of recognition. He became Max Schreck in that role. While the film received plenty of critical praise and turned a profit, it seems to get lost in the shuffle of great horror films over the last decade. It's a fantastic movie with a great story and incredible performances; make it your next Netflix rental.

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