Movie review: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Shadow of the Vampire is a creative story about the filming of the famous 1922 silent film Nosferatu. The movie takes quite a bit of liberty with the facts but has an engaging and somewhat spooky storyline.

Nosferatu was F. W. Murnau’s masterpiece, a German film about vampires that took Bram Stoker’s Dracula as its inspiration. (Stoker’s widow would not give Murnau the rights to make a movie based on the book.)

In Shadow of the Vampire, Murnau is an egomaniac, driven to make the perfect film no matter what the cost. And the cost, it turns out, is huge. He keeps his cast and crew in the dark about some scenes, locations, and most importantly, the actor playing Count Orlok (his movie version of Count Dracula). Orlok, he pronounced, will be played by Max Schreck, a certain actor that no one else knew. Schreck would stay in character the entire time, never coming out of character even when no filming was taking place.

People thought Schreck/Count Orlok odd, but no one thought much of it. Not even when cast members had to be replaced because Orlok was attacking them to drink their blood. This is not to say that the cast and crew weren’t weirded out by Orlok—they were. But no one really thought anything was amiss.

And then during one drug-induced bout of honesty, Murnau confides in some crew members about Orlok’s true nature, where he found him, and what he promised him. The crew members who heard the truth were horrified. But not horrified enough to try to prevent the inevitable from happening.

The film follows many of the shots and scenes in the original Nosferatu. Murnau shoots Gustav approaching the castle, Gustav and Orlok looking over and signing the contracts, and Orlok attacking Greta. The original story is spooky enough but the storyline of the new movie adds a new layer on top, more horrifying than scary.

Once the crew is in the know about the truth—that Murnau made a deal with Orlok—they go along. That is almost more horrifying than the deal that Murnau made—if Count Orlok acts in his movie, in the end, Murnau will give the vampire Greta, the female lead. In the end, those in the know become victims of the vampire too. All the while Murnau films—one death after another—until the vampire is killed by the rising sun.

Shadow of the Vampire truly sports an unusual storyline and is populated with outstanding actors. If you are a fan of Nosferatu, the vampire genre, or horror, you will likely enjoy this movie. The horror revolves around how far one man will go for glory and others will go as passive enablers. The movie resonates with history. Just a decade or two after the movie takes place, Germans would be passive enablers of Hitler. Horror indeed.

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Silent Halloween at the Indiana Landmarks Center (2017)

Nosferatu?! Nosferatu?! The famous 1922 silent film? Count me in.

I originally saw this movie years ago in Bloomington, Indiana. A graduate school colleague played in a band that composed an original score for Nosferatu. Each year M played their original composition as the silent film was shown at a local venue. This time I would be hearing Mark Herman accompany the film on an organ, the traditional musical instrument for silent films.

And Sammy Terry, the iconic horror film host in Central Indiana, was back. He posed for photos with fans and emceed the event. The audience was entertained with his standard guillotine act.

The participants in the scream contest were amazing this year. The winner was a man. My favorite? The woman who when asked by Sammy Terry to describe a favorite horror movie or recent horror experience replied, “The night that Trump won.” (As you can imagine, in a state where two-thirds of voters voted for Trump, her response didn’t go over so well. But it did delight several of us in the audience.)

Sammy Terry also hosted the costume contest. This year’s theme, keeping with the film, was vampires. Awards were given for best traditional vampire, best creative vampire, and best couple vampire. Of course, not everyone came dressed as a vampire. The winner of the traditional category left me perplexed; I don’t know what she was but she was not a traditional vampire. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what the creative vampire winner was either, but it was a cool costume. (A steampunk plague doctor perhaps?)

One thing was new this year: live streaming on Facebook. A cameraman followed the action on the stage and in the audience. At the end of the evening, Sammy Terry announced that 10,000 people watched their inaugural living streaming.

As usual, Mark was happy to be back playing in Indiana. (He lives in California but is from Indiana.) And also as usual, the audience loved him.

The movie Nosferatu was, of course, delightful. It was creepy but, like other silent films, some things did not age well and produced laughter instead of horror. The scenes of Count Orlok walking down empty town streets with his coffin tucked under his arm elicited laughter—the scene was so absurd. The creepiest bits were when the camera showed his shadow walking up the stairs to Ellen’s bedroom. The tall slender form of the vampire with long fingers and nails cast a frightful sight: shadow on the stairs.

The movie was well attended. I sat in my usual spot wondering if my companions would show up this year. (Three years ago I struck up conversations with people sitting by me. Each year since then we have sat in the same spot.) Alas, they didn’t show up and I was left thinking that perhaps they had other engagements this year—until Dave stopped by to say hello. They had arrived late and found seating elsewhere. And then at intermission I looked for his daughter, only to turn around and see that she sought me out too.

Indiana Landmark’s tradition of Silent Halloween (now in its fifth year) is an awesome way to celebrate the season—Sammy Terry, Mark Herman, and silent horror films. Oh yes, and if you are lucky, you may encounter acquaintances made and renewed during previous Silent Halloweens.