The story of Dracula has been filmed dozens of times, but one of the most unforgettable is the silent German film, “Nosferatu.” The director, F.W. Murnau, was not able to get permission from the author’s widow to film “Dracula,” so we just changed all the names and went ahead with it anyway. His title character was so bizarre and creepy that there were even rumors that Murnau found a real vampire to play the part.
The premise of this new movie about the making of “Nosferatu” is that Murnau (John Malkovich) did indeed find a real vampire to play the part, and that the making of the movie was a race between Murnau’s efforts to finish filming and the vampire’s efforts to finish off the cast and crew.
The vampire (Willem Dafoe), introduced as “Max Schreck,” observes to Murnau that “you and I are not so different.” Both are single-minded in pursuit of their goals, regardless of the consequences for others. Both have a kind of everlasting life. But there are differences, too. Light is what makes Murnau’s form of everlasting life possible — he is always seeking the light he needs to be able to tell his story through film. Schreck is always hiding from light, which can destroy him.
The highlight of the movie is Dafoe’s performance as Schreck. Unrecognizeable under all the make-up, he manages to be witty, menacing, charming, and even sympathetic. Malkovich has the intensity for Murnau and is excellent shouting his direction to his cast and crew. English comedian Eddie Izzard is fine as the leading man. The art direction is superb, especially when we see them filming and the picture fades into a re-creation of the black and white original.
The movie has some witty jabs at film-makers of all eras. Murnau responds to one crisis by saying that “It may be adventageous because it makes the crew very edgy and I like that,” and there is a very funny exhange with Schreck about which members of the crew may be expendable. It makes some good points, but ultimately just stops rather than ends.
Parents should know that despite the comic and satiric tone there are some creepy vampire moments. Schreck drinks a bat’s blood. There are some decadent performers in a night-club and some characters use drugs and behave in a manner that may be very upsetting. There is brief nudity and some strong language.
Families who see this movie should talk about what it means to say that someone is “chasing an altogether different ghost.” Does everyone chase a ghost of some kind? Which ghosts were Murnau and Schreck chasing? Families will want to talk about the way that Murnau and Schreck were willing to sacrifice anyone around them to get what they wanted. The leading lady tells Murnau that live audiences give her life while a camera takes it out of her. How does that differ from Murnau’s view?
Families who enjoy this movie should see Murnau’s “Nosferatu” and some of the other versions of “Dracula.”