Dean’s pick of the month

September’s Pick

“Shadow of the Vampire” Starring Willem Dafoe, John Malkovich, Cary Elwes, and Catherine McCormack; directed by E. Elias Merhige

In 1922 F.W. Murnau directed, “Nesferatu: A Symphony of Horror.” Over the past 100 years his vampire, played by Max Schreck, is still one of the most terrifying that’s ever stalked the silver screen. Literally, for Nesferatu the vampire lurks and creeps and slithers so convincingly it’s a performance that’s hard to shake long after watching it. If you’ve never seen it, rectify that immediately. “Nesferatu” was the first, and easily the best, film based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Flash forward to 2000 and you’ll find a film that’s just as terrifying, and even more disturbing, with a performance by Willem Dafoe that’s easily one of the finest in ALL of horror. The film is E. Elias Merhige’s “Shadow of the Vampire.” It also stars John Malkovich, Cary Elwes, and Catherine McCormack. But Dafoe’s performance is so overpowering even Malkovich is…pardon the pun, overshadowed. And that’s a rarity.

“Shadow of the Vampire” takes the menacing premise of the making of “Nesferatu” where Murnau (played by Malkovich) knows that when hiring Max Shreck (Dafoe), the actor is actually a vampire. As soon as Shreck arrives onsite for filming, Dafoe takes over so commandingly, you can’t take your eyes off him. It is after we meet the entire cast and crew of the filming within the filming, when production moves from Berlin to Czechoslovakia where Dafoe’s Schreck awaits his entrance, and from that moment on demands that he’s only called Count Orlock.

This is a film of astonishing reality. Everyone involved takes the premise with the utmost gravity, creating an overall story that is filled with dread and anticipation with each frame. It is a film that truly BELIEVES in vampires. Malkovich’s Mernau even makes a deal with his devil telling Dafoe’s Schreck if he performs in the movie, he can have the blood of the leading lady.

And isn’t that what makes the greatest horror stories so effective? The complete knowing that monsters exist. That they live under the bed? That they really are around the corner waiting in the shadows ready to slit your throat or break your bloody neck? “Shadow of the Vampire” is such a story. Willem Dafoe’s vampire is such a monster. With his feral teeth and bat ears and slurping sounds when he murders the innocent…he’s living proof such monsters will live on and on and on …


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