“Shadow of the Vampire” (2000) – Director E. Elias Merhige’s movie is about a filmmaker (John Malkovich) making a movie with an eccentric star (Willem Dafoe). Sounds simple enough and not out of the ordinary, because what movie actor or actress isn’t at least a little eccentric?
Well, not so simple.
Merhige’s eye-popping fantasy-biopic doubles as a horror film, because Malkovich plays director FW Murnau who attempts to make 1922’s “Nosferatu”, and Dafoe is actor Max Schreck who plays the chalky-white, long-nailed Count Orlok. The rub? Murnau claims that Schreck is a method actor, because he is always in makeup and in character, but is it really makeup and is he really acting?
With bizarre ingredients of history, satire, nostalgia, and terror, this cinematic concoction delivers creepy visuals and jolting scares. The longer we step into the 92-minute picture, the more unsettling the story becomes, while Murnau and Schreck are locked into a battle of wills. Murnau is determined to finish his picture, and Schreck wants to be left to his own twisted devices.
Benicio del Toro won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2001 for “Traffic”, and it’s difficult to argue with the Academy’s decision, but one (including this critic) could put up a good fight that Dafoe should have earned the gold statue.
Well, let’s support Dafoe and this film by watching this mesmerizing little classic again!
Image credits: Lions Gate Films; Trailer credits: PurpleGardenWalls