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SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (2000, USA)

The film “Nosferatu” from 1922 by the legendary German filmmaker FW Murnau is still considered a masterpiece of expressionism and one of the first representatives of horror. It is a legendary silent film about which various stories and legends circulate to this day, and they served the screenwriter Steven A. Katz, then the director Elias Merhige, to film this already iconic black humor horror drama about the making of the famous film. Merhige became famous in the eighties on the New York underground theater scene, and at the end of that decade he shot the cult underground experimental film “Begotten”.

Although the producer of the film Nicolas Cage himself wanted to play Max Schreck, a completely unknown theater actor to whom Murnau, to everyone’s surprise, assigned the role of Nosferatu, in the end he left the role to Willem Dafoe. And it was one of the roles that brought this excellent actor the second of his four unsuccessful Oscar nominations, and the film, which begins as a biographical drama about the making of a cult film, will turn into a crazy and completely twisted horror comedy by the end. The year is 1921 and already legendary German filmmaker FW Murnau is planning to make a film based on the famous novel “Dracula” by Bram Stoker.

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The only problem is that the Irish writer’s widow does not want to sell the rights to the book to the Germans, so Murnau decided to call the film Nosferatu instead of Dracula, and the vampire Count Orlock. Instead of Romanian Transylvania, the action takes place in Czechoslovakia, where Murnau took the entire film crew, and we see the legendary director, played by John Malkovich, behaving like a real tyrant on the set. Both he and the rest of the team are in white, doctor’s corners and Murnau insists that everyone calls him Her Doktor, and his methods drive not only the producers crazy, but also the entire team. They are especially bothered by the fact that he found an anonymous guy for the role of Count Orlock, namely Max Schreck, who literally strikes fear into everyone’s bones with his character and appearance.

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This unknown guy is constantly in the role of a vampire, and Murnau claims that Schreck is a follower of the method of the Russian theater actor Konstantin Stanislavski. He, just like Strassberg’s and Kazan’s Actors studio in America twenty years later, practiced the technique according to which the actor really has to live the role he plays, practically become that character. However, as time will pass, it will increasingly seem that the actor who plays Count Dracula could really be a real vampire, and “Shadow of the Vampire” will turn completely into a grotesque black comedy.

While Murnau will continue to try to make the film as convincing and realistic as possible, the filming will become more and more complicated and more difficult. Stylistically and technically, Merhige decided to follow Murnau’s expressionist style from the early twenties, and he managed to make a film that is both a vampire horror and a story about what a visionary director is willing to do in order to get what he wants. Of course, little of that happened in reality as in this film, not only because luckily there were no real vampires then and all the film crew managed to survive the filming, but also Murnau was not such a merciless dictator and eccentric, but had a much gentler and more normal access to recordings. However, the story of Dafoe in the role of Schreck / Nosferatu is special. This great actor is equally hilarious and creepy in the role that earned him a supporting actor nomination, but this time the Oscar went to Benicio del Toro for “Traffic.”

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