This is one of those rare movies that blends horror, history, and intelligence all in one. There really isn’t anything like it. It entwines an atmospheric fictional spin on the true story of the history behind the filming of the first vampire film, Nosferatu.
This power cast is headed by John Malkovich, Willem Defoe, and Udo Kier. Yep – Power. Cast. I have to say that I love John Malkovich. I like to imagine, or hope to imagine, that the real John Malkovich is something like his persona in the movie, Being John Malkovich (one of my favorite dark comedies).
The opening credits remind me something out of a Hitchcock film – mysterious and vintage. Set in Berlin, 1921, the film gives some great background on the history of Nosferatu.
“Brilliant German filmmaker Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau is refused permission by Bram Stoker’s estate to film his novel Dracula. Murnau simply changes the name calling his vampire Count Orlock and named his film… Nosferatu. F. W Murnau then creates the most realistic vampire film ever made and establishes himself amongst the greatest directors of all time.”
John Malkovich plays director Murnau. This character is so interesting with nuances of narcissism and delusions of grandeur. I love the “direction” by Malkovich’s character. There is actually a lot of humor in this intelligent film. All the crew, including the producer (Kier), are left in the dark of what kind of film Murau is making. It is all a mystery, but Murau seems to know exactly what he is doing.
Willem Dafoe plays Max Shrek, who plays the vampire in the film. Apparently the role was specifically created with Willem Dafoe in mind and he is perfect for it. The first appearance of the vampire is iconic and memorable. Shown through an unfocused lens, from the waist down, the image comes into view showing the vampires hands- thin and boney with long fingernails. It’s very creepy, especially with not having seen his face yet.
Then finally, the cast and crew meet Count Orlock. Murnau explains that Shrek is a character actor, meaning he submerges his personality into the character that he is playing. He will only be filmed at night and he will only be seen in full costume and full makeup. Mysterious, creepy, and almost rodent-like, walking with his long hands pulled up to his chest, his lips curled. The crew is rendered speechless; a perfect overture for the symphony of horrors.
Max Shrek creeps around breathing heavily on set, keeping his unconventional artistry in character, and making the crew feel uncomfortable. The crew start worrying that he will become so immersed in his character that he will forget who he is and hurt somebody. It seems that something is not right. It seems that director Murnau has made a deal with the devil himself. Could Max Shrek really be a vampire? Director Murnau will do anything to finish his picture. Ultimately, I think it is Murnau who is the real monster- a sociopath willing to do anything to get to his end result.
This is actually my mom’s favorite Halloween season movie. She obviously has good taste. This movie ranks high on my favorite vampire movie list. After Interview with the Vampire, this is my favorite vampire film. My list would look something like this:
- Interview with the Vampire
- Shadow of the Vampire
- Let the Right One In / Let Me In
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula
- Kiss of the Damned
I could keep going, but I will stop there. Also, I can’t put Nosferatu on the list because I saw it when I was very young and it’s been too long since I’ve seen it to rank it fairly.
This film stands out because it is not like other vampire genre films, typically full of carnage and sexual tension. There is sympathy for the vampire in this film, yet still a sense of dread. In his scenes, the vampire stays enveloped in shadow and darkness – a wonderful technique that adds fear and intrigue to the atmosphere. This atmosphere brings life to the horror fiction that blends seamlessly together with the intelligent script of the true story.
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