Vampires are not necessarily my thing. Don’t get me wrong, I like them well enough. I even went through a phase where I was pretty obsessed with the history and lore of them. Said phase also corresponded with my so goth I wished I could shit bats and be a character in a Poppy Z. Brite story so take that for what you will. At the end of the day though, I don’t love vampires or vampire stories. I will always choose Frankenstein’s Creature over Dracula. Werewolves are inherently more interesting to me with the beast inside all of us metaphor. Vampires are, by and large, a pretty boring lot who all took the script of Stoker and Rice and ran with it.
That being said there are some great and fantastic tales featuring the bloodsuckers. Let the Right One In, Dracula’s various film incarnations and What We Do in the Shadows are a few examples. By and large my favorite though is Shadow of the Vampire. It’s not strictly a horror movie. It belongs more to the class of highly fictionalized dramas based on actual cinematic history. It frequently gets grouped together with the also amazing Gods and Monsters. Where Gods and Monsters sticks fairly close to James Whale’s real life though, Shadow of the Vampire goes for the completely fantastical. It imagines what would have happened if Max Schreck of Nosferatu was in fact perhaps an actual vampire.
The first way Shadow of the Vampire goes completely right is casting. Willem Dafoe is barely recognizable as himself and plays Schreck with equal parts horror, pathos and humor. John Malkovich as obsessed film maker Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau gives us some of his best vintage of disturbing Malkovich. Eddie Izzard and Cary Elwes both play small parts to excellent effect for both their wheelhouses.
Shadow of the Vampire relies heavily on the man or monster trope. First in leaving the audience questioning for most of the movie whether Schreck is an actual vampire or just a really really dedicated method actor. Secondly in the monster created by being consumed by obsession Malkovich presents. By the end the question is presented of who is the bigger monster and who has caused the most damage.
All around, it’s as close as you get to a perfect vampire film as you can get. There are a few plot holes granted. (Like if Schreck doesn’t cast a reflection how does he show up on film exactly?) It’s not enough to take anything away from the movie though and that’s why it’s my favorite vampire film.