Take a Drink: when the Count drinks
Take a Drink: for every reference to blood
Drink a Shot: if you’d be a hell of a lot more worried than the crewmembers seem to be by the presence of a vampire.
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
The year is 1921, and the German film industry is burgeoning. F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) is a highly respected director determined to adapt Bram Stoker’s Dracula into a feature film, and to do it his way. Lacking the rights to the novel, he simply substitutes character names and the film’s setting. He also needs a truly menacing presence for the lead role, someone who can embody a vampire like no other. So naturally, he turns to real vampire Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe), whose grim appearance is more than suited to the task. Murnau strikes a devil’s bargain with Schreck, who agrees to take on the film role. As technical troubles plague the production, so does Schreck, as he wastes no time in feeding off the lead cinematographer during the night. Murnau is driven to complete the film, and will not let anything so petty as the deaths of crew members to get in the way of his vision.
Director E. Elias Merhige crafted a wonderfully dark satire of the film industry, using the backdrop of a notoriously difficult production to tell a horror story. Shadow of the Vampire successfully juggles two totally different emotional responses: fear and laughter, sometimes in the same scene. The film takes advantage of many silent film era shooting techniques that work both to throw off modern audience expectations, and pay homage to the time when the visuals had to tell the whole story.
Willem Dafoe was born to play a vampire, and particularly the Nosferatu vampire. He conveys the sinister, parasitic like nature of the vampire’s existence deftly, while also managing to leave just a few strands of humanity dangling. Long ago, any memory of his past life has been washed away. Being present among so many living humans for the first time in ages has made him nostalgic for his past that he can no longer remember. While these human emotions still occasionally occur to him, he ultimately has accepted his fate, as his blood cravings supersede all else.
Over the film’s course, John Malkovich’s character F.W. Murnau undergoes a transformation. At first he is merely a self-involved artist trying to make his film. But as Max Schreck enters his life, he gradually becomes more and more monstrous. Eventually, his obsession with completing the film overcomes concern for the lives of his crew.
On occasion the cast and crew make decisions that no intelligent, or even mildly stupid person who feared for their life would make. The mere fact that the crew sticks around once it becomes pretty plainly obvious that Max Schreck is a vampire makes little sense. The filmmakers could have found a more subtle approach, but instead some of the characters’ decisions come off as simply laughable. This is a minor complaint, however, as the strengths of the film lie in atmosphere and tone that far outdo this issue.
A splendid mix of film history and horror, Willem Dafoe was born to play this role.