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Shadow of the Vampire (2000)



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Nosferatu remains one of the most popular horror films, even among those who would normally avoid any other silent film, because of how resolutely it crawls under one's skin. The actor playing the vampire, Max Schreck, does such a good job (and despite acting regularly until 1936, is only particularly known for this one role) that it's scarcely a great leap to speculate that he might really have been a vampire. Bela Lugosi was wonderfully effective in Dracula, but on some level we know we are witnessing a performance. Schreck's Nosferatu is so much the stuff of nightmares that how could it be anything but?

This is the premise of Shadow of the Vampire: that Max Schreck really was a vampire, and director F.W. Murnau (played by John Malkovich) found him and hired him for his movie. But he discovers keeping a vampire -- and moreover keeping it happy -- is more of a challenge than he reckoned.

It sounds like a comedy, perhaps, a creative cousin of The Little Shop of Horrors? Not a chance: comic though the premise may be, it's played straight. There are some legitimately chilling moments here. What humor there is -- and there are a few such moments -- are almost as scary. "Why him, you monster?" Murnau rages, after Schreck has just eaten a key member of the crew. "Why not the...script girl?"

The film works best if one is familiar with Nosferatu, as several scenes recreate the classic moments in that film and even work in some of the details of its making that are the stuff of movie lore.

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