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Who Is The Real Monster?
uglykidmatt11 May 2001
Warning: Spoilers
F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu" has always been one of my favorite horror movies, mainly because it's one of the few that really seems to take itself seriously. Often, even the best horror films, classics like "Psycho" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", include moments of leavening humor. Even "The Exorcist" had Father Karras' film discussions with Detective Kinderman. Not "Nosferatu". This is a film that spends every moment of its running time shuddering along with the audience in fright and disgust at its beastly vampire and the plague he visits upon the innocent people of Bremen. E. Elias Merhige's intensely imaginative "Shadow of the Vampire" offers an intriguing explanation of the film's creepy hold.

It's 1921, and Murnau (John Malkovich), a kinky martinet obsessed with creating films as authentic as breathing, drags his crew to a moldering castle in Czechoslovakia for the filming of his vampire epic. There, the surprised crew meets Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe), the actor playing the vampire, who, to say the least, has taken method to a new height. He is, in fact, a real vampire, who has made a bargain with Murnau. He will appear in the film, giving the director the realistic horror experience he so desires, if he is permitted to drink the blood of the leading lady in the final scene. Murnau grows increasingly obsessed with feeding his muse while Schreck settles for feeding himself, the body count mounting inexorably as Murnau struggles to finish his masterpiece while his leading man is finishing off the crew.

Steven Katz' script could likely have gotten by on its strikingly original premise alone, but fortunately, he turned what could have just been a corking black comedy into a surprisingly deep meditation on the dark power of the movies and the sacrifices one is willing to make, of oneself and others, in order to create art. Schreck is seen as a dessicated shambles, the ultimate embodiment of an actor past his sell-by date still clinging to his past glory, who, in a remarkable scene, talks about the sadness of reading "Dracula" and seeing how thoroughly his special hell has been misinterpreted and popularized. Of Of course, all the crew can say to this is, "What an actor." To them, Schreck is just another old hambone who can no longer distinguish fantasy from reality.

In one of the film's most poignant sequences, Schreck, who earlier expressed his yearning to once again see the light of the sun, watches film footage of a sunrise through a projector, staring right into the lens so the celluloid sunlight can wash over his face. It's a beautiful visualization of the powerful hold movies exert; everyone can remember memorable experiences that we've had through the motion picture camera, things we've done and places we've been to that we could not have gotten to any other way. Just because these experiences were only on film does not make them any less real to us.

Murnau, meanwhile, begins to emerge as the film's true monster, willing to do whatever it takes to see his vision fulfilled, sacrificing his crew, his cast, and his own humanity in the name of achieving immortality through art. Directors are often compared to God, and "Shadow of the Vampire" is one of the most effective variations on that theme that I have come across. Murnau, you see, is one of the old gods, and like those archaic deities, he demands blood.

Merhige helms this material marvelously, conveying a sense of menace and impending doom that make this a genuine horror film in addition to a clever meditation on the form. The film, for its low budget, has the feel of a true epic, with its castle looming up over the black hills, mossy brown-and-green cinematography, and heavy, ominous music. The supporting cast does a uniformly fine job, particularly Udo Kier, who invests "Nosferatu"'s producer, Albin Grau, with unspoken secrets that exist only behind his haunting eyes.

This film, however, is really a showcase for Malkovich and Dafoe, who deliver two knockout performances. Malkovich is the perfect control-freak director, calm and cajoling one moment, barking angry orders the next. He's even willing to shout down a bloodsucking beast if it will get him what he wants for his film. Dafoe, buried under a ton of makeup, projects a real character through his fangs and hissing, making Schreck pitiable, powerful, and frightening all at once. Dafoe received a much deserved Oscar nomination for his work here, and if Malkovich had been nominated as well, you would have heard no complaints from me.

"Shadow of the Vampire" gets a bit muddled in its final act, when Murnau finally confronts the vampire with his most powerful weapon. However, the final moments are so powerful, the last shot so chilling when you consider its implications, that the script's imperfections are subordinated by the power of the film's message. "Shadow of the Vampire" is a provocative picture that explores the depths to which creative people will sink, the cost in lives and their own soul they are willing to pay, just for a taste of immortality. One must beware. The taste is a lasting one. And sometimes bitter.
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7/10
Great Performances in a Good Movie
buckleym-129 April 2001
The premise of "Shadow of a Vampire" is simple, what if Max Schreck was really a vampire posing as an actor playing a vampire in the Murnau's masterpiece, "Nosferatu?" Well, the result is both slightly scary and pretty funny. Director E. Elias Merhige and writer Steven Katz create a fairly creepy mood, and inhabit the picture with some real interesting characters.

John Malkovich plays famous silent film director F.W. Murnau. This is perhaps the funniest performance of the bunch, especially when he is giving audible instructions to the "actors" while the camera is rolling. Then, there is Willem Dafoe who plays Max Schreck/ the vampire. It is incredibly fun to watch an almost unrecognizable Dafoe play this oddball, Max Schreck. Unfortunately for Murnau, Schreck starts doing what vampires tend to do... bite people. The original photographer dies along with a few others at the mouth of Schreck. After seeing this movie, it is quite easy to see why Dafoe was nominated for best supporting actor at the Oscars. His performance is worth the price of admission.

This is a film which is hard to classify, sense it is a fictional account of an actual film with real people. Yet this horror-comedy does have its moments of wonderful macabre humor along with great performances to help make it an enjoyable movie. A 7 out of 10. I highly recommend watching this as part of a double feature. First, watch Murnau's original 1922 masterpiece, "Nosferatu", then watch "Shadow of a Vampire." You will appreciate "Shadow of a Vampire" a lot more (or maybe vice versa).
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9/10
I Smell the Blood of a Wunderkind
pc_dean5 March 2001
Every once in a while, a movie comes along that completely and maybe consciously defies categorization, and "Shadow of the Vampire" is a great example. It is at once a black comedy, a horror movie with a unique setting, and a biting sendup of the art and business of moviemaking. And the fact is that it wears each of these hats quite well, although not necessarily at the same time.

The movie asks us to imagine: What if Max Schreck, the mysterious guy who gave what is still considered one of the best vampire performances ever, did so well because, well, he really was a vampire? The skulking creature, we are to imagine, was finagled into performing in "Nosferatu" for legendary cinema pioneer F.W. Murnau. The story then follows as the crew makes the movie dealing with all sorts of difficulties, not the least of which is the star's habit of snacking on cameramen.

Among the film's many virtues is its portrayal of filmmaking in what was really its dawn as a form of art and commerce. People like me, who have trouble with silent movies may gain an additional appreciation for the work and craft that went in to them, and realize that while they may seem hokey and stylized to us now, they had a beauty and substance that was all their own, and still is.

John Malkovich turns in a great performance as the visionary Murnau (who, while tortured, must be a genius because he always gets it in one take). It is a characteristic Malkovich role, a rationalist given to bouts of fury, and it is as much fun to see him discourse pretentiously on the science and art of the moving image as it is to see him pitch a fit ("Albon, a NATIVE has wandered into my FRAME!").

The core of this movie, however, and deservedly so, is Willem Dafoe's unforgettable portrayal of Schreck. This is not your slick-talking Anne-Rice undead-Vogue kinda vampire. Schreck is the next thing up from a rat, squatting in filth and clicking his claws, and Dafoe is able to inspire laughter as well as fear, and even pathos. He makes us imagine what a rotten existence it must be, to have eternal life alone in a rotting ruin and a withered body. He and Malkovich have some great scenes together, including a sick, hilarious moment when Schreck and Murnau try to hammer out who on the crew may or may not be snacked upon (the cinematographer is necessary, it seems, but the script girl is negotiable).

The movie functions best as a sendup of moviemaking, as the harried Murnau must deal with temperamental actors, unfriendly locals, blood-sucking undead, and other hazards of the movie trade. At one point, Murnau must leave to calm the investors, a scene I really wish had been included. Some of the best moments are those of the age-old creature of the night attempting to take direction and find his "motivation." Everyone is afraid of Schreck, but admire the dedication that keeps him in character all the time (he's a Method actor, explains Murnau, he studied with Stanislavsky). The movie makes its point rather neatly, that filmmakers, and by extension filmmaking itself, have a way of sucking the life and blood out of you. Anyone who has ever had to shoot a movie on location will attest to this.

If I have a complaint about the movie, it is only that after its extreme cleverness, it settles for a somewhat straightforward horror-style denouement. Myself, I would have thought the vampire would end up moving to Berlin and getting an agent, a swimming pool, and a meeting with Ovitz. Still, the movie clearly makes its point: an auteur driven by a mania for artistic perfection can be more of a monster than something that just lives in a cave and drinks blood from your neck.
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10/10
Willem Dafoe is Magnificent!
namashi_124 March 2012
A fictionalized account of the making of the classic vampire film Nosferatu, directed by F. W. Murnau, 'Shadow of the Vampire' is an interesting yet creepy film, but above all, its Willem Dafoe Magnificent Performance as Max Schreck, that makes this film unmissable!

'Shadow of the Vampire' Synopsis: The filming of Nosferatu is hampered by the fact that the star is taking his role far more seriously than what seems humanly possible.

'Shadow of the Vampire' is a fictionalized account, so you shouldn't take this one too seriously. This Horror film, is creepy, atmospheric & yet funny. The Entire Story, The Entire Execution, in fact, is very convincing, even though, it won't work for the faint-hearted.

Steven Katz's Screenplay is superb. It's scary, creepy, atmospheric, funny & VERY innovative. E. Elias Merhige's Direction is as Eerie as it gets! Cinematography by Lou Bogue is fabulous. Editing by Royinba Onijala is crisp. Music by Dan Jones is good. Make-Up is Marvelous.

Performance-Wise: Willem Dafoe is Truly Magnificent, in an Oscar-Nominated Performance! His performance as Max Schreck, who plays Count Orlok/Count Dracula, is an astonishing embodiment, that's an Actor-Study. This is a Performance that deserves to be viewed by each & every actor! John Malkovich as Frederich Wilhelm Murnau, is competent. Udo Kier as Albin Grau, is first-rate. Udo Kier as Albin Grau, is impressive. Catherine McCormack as Greta Schroeder, is worth a mention.

On the whole, 'Shadow of the Vampire' is an interesting film, but Willem Dafoe's Performance is its greatest merit.
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8/10
Absolutely stunning and fascinating !
Coventry9 December 2003
This movie is a true relief for everyone who thought the genre of horror and mystery was dead and buried. It feels good to see that it's still possible to create movies like this. Even though the plot is rather simple, the movie seems to be very original and innovating. The basic idea behind this movie is so simple that it is - in fact - brilliant and it makes me wonder why nobody has thought about this earlier. The movie is completely based on the very early horror milestone "Nosferatu, ein symphony des grauens". Legendary actor Max Schrek is portrayed here like a REAL vampire who regularly takes a bite out of his crew. Director F.W. Murnau knows about this but finishing his movie is a higher priority to him than to sacrifice a few people.

This theme makes it of course a must for the ancient horror fans. Lots of footage and trivia of the 1922 masterpiece are shown and that's a real extra value for true cinema buffs ! But of course, this movie reaches far above average thanks to the brilliant performances. A totally disguised Willem Dafoe is absolutely amazing in his role of Max Shreck. It's like looking at the real Schrek...the resemblance is terrific. His appearance (especially the long nails) give you the creeps whenever he's on screen and his voice haunts your head every time he says something. Dafoe never gives away a bad performance but this one is extraordinary. And of course,the same can be said about John Malkovich...his portrayal of director F.W. Murnau is extremely realistic and believable. He plays Murnau as the man who slowly goes insane because he tries to be too perfect. An amazing performance !!

There aren't many shock effects to detect in this movie but that's rather normal, right ? After all, it's more like a costume-drama than it is horror. The lack of exiting scenes is made up by the constant presence of tension and an extremely appropriate atmosphere. Also, a perfect image of Eastern Europe in the 1920's is presented to the audience. All these aspects make a much better movie then just some ordinary slashing and slicing throats. A must see !!
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7/10
Battle of the misfit thespians
Back in 1924, the silent movie Nosferatu was released. At the time (as now) it was the definitive expression of the timeless story of Count Dracula. There have been, of course, endless renditions of the 1896 Bram Stoker tale; however, Nosferatu was unique in that the medium of cinema was extremely new in 1924, and the maker had to deal with prejudices against this newfangled form of entertainment, which had to compete with the written word. Now, of course, a new Dracula film need not compete with the original story; it only needs to compete with earlier versions on film. This movie explains the story of how Nosferatu was produced. The director, F. W. Murnau (John Malkovich), is filming his masterpiece in Germany (the widow of the story's author refused to sign the rights to the story, so they couldn't film in Transylvania or use any of the names in the book). His choice to play the part of the vampire Nosferatu is Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe), a beastly, hideous man who will appear to the cast and crew only in character (an early example of Method acting, to be sure). Shreck will not travel or bunk with the company; he will live only in the cave dwelling that the film's protagonist, Count Orlac, calls his home. With a leading man that eccentric, it's no wonder trouble appears on the set. People get sick, others appear listless and not quite into their work. Still, the tenacious Murnau pushes on. He must get his shot! His film must be completed! And as it progresses, he slips a little further into his own world, and Schrek - who, it has been said, played perhaps the ugliest vampire in film history - assumes more and more control over the direction of the movie (although not literally). Dafoe is unrecognizable in makeup, but the sinister creepiness he brings to most of his roles is evident here. It's an accomplished actor who can play a part in full makeup and still make the role distinguishable from... well, from some chump in a lot of makeup. Dafoe's excellent here, and his interplay with Malkovich is galvanizing. Their scenes together are like an actor's class on How To Emote and Project. There are times when each actor appears to ham it up slightly (or, in the case of Malkovich, more than slightly), but the two of them together constitute a casting coup. This is a wonderful little film, yet another that didn't quite get the acclaim it deserved. The atmosphere is both rich and compelling, both essential qualities for a film that's all about vampires from long ago. This is not a movie that's high on special effects, either; don't expect to see a lot of flash and fancy. It's also a homage to silent movies and to old-time horror films in general. It's a minimalist film in terms of set itself, but much is done with so little.
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10/10
Richly nuanced exploration of silent film classic
maryf3 February 2001
What if the lead character in the film Nosferatu really was a vampire? Shadow of the Vampire explores this unusual concept as it follows the story of the filming of the 1921 silent film classic. Malkovich plays the role of Murnau, the German director who makes the bargain from hell to provide realism to his Dracula knock-off, only to find that he has unleashed a monster. This is a horror film that is really a psychological drama -- the true horror lies in the man who decides no price is too high for the making of his movie. At the same time, there's a lot of humor, as well as an intriguing glimpse of Berlin in the decadent 1920s.

Dafoe is definitely an Oscar nominee with this performance (and the film should get an Oscar for his make-up, too): especially powerful scenes include his describing his reaction to reading the novel Dracula, by Bram Stoker; and a confrontation with Murnau near the end of the film, when Murnau finally is forced to recognize what he has done. Strong acting performances from the supporting actors as well -- Elwes' accent wanders, as does Malkovich's, but the cast (including native Germans) is generally strong. Some really nice cinematography and editing.

It adds to the experience to have seen the silent film first, by the way; it is well worth viewing in any case. It's available in a remastered print with a good soundtrack. "Shadow" takes a few liberties with the original film, but not important ones (those night scenes were obviously not shot at night, for example).

I loved this film -- two thumbs up!
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8/10
Great concept, well executed
dover14 October 2001
First off, this is a much better movie if you have seen Murnau's expressionist masterpiece, "Nosferatu". There are a number of scenes from this movie that draw on "Nosferatu", and it makes a lot of the scenes more enjoyable. The movie is done in very much an expressionist vein it itself, the kind of film F.W. Murnau would certainly have appreciated.

The concept here is incredibly intriguing - what if a horror movie was a horror to film? Once the film kicks into gear, it establishes a rather creepy mood, especially in the sets, most of which mirror those of "Nosferatu" (the writer's bed, for instance, looks exactly like Hutter's).

As the film progresses, the actors take over the film, and it's interesting to see how they stack up to their precursors from 70 years ago. Eddie Izzard is an interesting Hutter (the Jonathan Harker analog), as (pretend) silent acting is well-tailored to his overbearing antics. Udo Kier is quite good as reserved producer Albin Grau. Alas, Cary Elwes, one of Hollywood's most underappreciated actors, is typecast as a kind of roguish, free-spirited Fritz Wagner, a real cinematographer (and the main one throughout all of "Nosferatu") and one of the stalwarts of German cinema into the 50's.

Malkovich is ideal for this role. He does a good job of being a manic, desparate for everything on his film to go right. His Murnau is a control-freak, a guy who keeps his crew in the dark, and adds to the generally creepiness.

The most curious thing about Murnau's "Nosferatu" is the vampire himself. The rest of the characters are pretty direct analogs of "Dracula". But instead of a suave, cool vampire of the Christopher Lee/Gary Oldman mold (later roles, of course), Murnau's vampire was a stiff, cold, violent monster. Willem Dafoe is absolutely brilliant in portraying this. He has some moments of comedic relief, bickering harmlessly with Malkovich, and generally being a fish out of water. Soon, however, his character becomes undeniably creepy, and Dafoe does a great job of making Count Orlok seem like the kind of guy who makes your skin crawl. In some way, this Orlok is less of a monster - he's portrayed a bit more sympathetically, sorrowing in his loneliness and never getting to see light. Murnau's vampire was almost always shot from below, making him appear huge and menacing; Dafoe's Orlok isn't monstrous so much as he just makes your skin crawl.

I do have a couple beefs, though, mainly technical. On a purely nitpicky level, Murnau is mentioned as a comtemporary of Griffith and Eisenstein, despite the fact that Eisenstein didn't make a movie until two years after "Nosferatu". On a less petty level, the characters seem a bit dumb. They have no problem accepting the fact that Orlok is an actual vampire once Malkovich tells them, but can't seem to figure it out on their own, despite seeing, among other things, Orlok pulling a bat out of the air and sucking the blood out of it.

The film, in general, does not end well. The penultimate scene is horribly contrived, a lot of silly reminiscing to to advance the plot a little. The ending itself isn't necessarily bad, just a bit ambigous. You don't come away with a clear sense of who (if anyone) was wronged amongst the main characters, and we leave a couple of them in limbo. A couple of technical details are odd, too. Murnau's Nosferatu has a shadow and a reflection, but this one only a shadow. Also, in the final scene they are supposedly filming, there's a wooden stake that's nowhere to be found in "Nosferatu".

A quick note, by the way - while the movie they are filming actually exists, rest assured the story is pure fantasy. Max Schreck went on to make more movies, as did the rest of the actors in this film, and no actors were bitten during the filming of the original movie.

A thououghly enjoyable film, especially if you're familiar with the subject matter.
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8/10
Disturbing...
RoninDeVamas22 June 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This movie was truly disturbing... ...but not in graphics and horror. This movie was disturbing in how it captured the true evil of the legendary vampire and the unsettledness of a set that has been portrayed by a perfectionist. A movie that captures such evil and psychosis possesses the true, dark, nightmarish atmosphere that even the best of horror films lack.

Willem Dafoe has given his best in this film. His dark aura that gave life to another villain he would later play -- the Green Goblin -- was perfect for the part of a deranged vampire who yearns from loneliness and hatred of his decomposing body. A being who is haunted by the loss of his past. Of his inability to make others like him, and be lonely no more. And yet, he is also a being that is always one step ahead of his demise, and manages to evade death and prevent his victims from escape with the same cunningness that would give him the part of one of the most evil of comic-book villains.

Though I've seen little of Malkovich, I thought that he played perfectly the part of the perfectionist. A perfectionist that is possessed by the desire of the perfect film that captures great evil and makes it's audience actually experience the feeling of a great dark presence. A film that 'doesn't make people say 'You should have been there', but that 'We have been there.'" A director whose desire of perfection puts the lives of even his most loyal of crew in the path of Death itself. A Death that has desires nowhere near as dark as the being that called upon it.

Such a film is nightmarish and heart-throbbing just by Shrek stepping from the hallow hallway and into the moonlight to welcome his 'guest'.

Overall: perfection...

Rating: 9 out of 10. A truly disturbing film with atmosphere that remains dark, even during the day...
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8/10
An enjoyable piece of filmmaking.
chrisbrown645311 July 2001
Shadow of the takes the viewer to 1921 to "witness" the making of F. W. Murnau's silent classic vampire film Nosferatu. Shadow of the Vampire does not pretend to be a documentary; it is a highly stylized, fictional work that delves into its very own imaginative speculations about a filmmaker's creative process.

Having assembled his crew, Murnau (John Malkovich) travels to a small town in Czechoslovakia, where he intends to recreate before his camera the story of Bram Stoker's "Dracula". Set on creating the most realistic vampire film, Murnau secretly recruits a real vampire (Willem Dafoe), promising to recompense the creature with leading lady Greta (Catherine McCormack). Murnau cautiously introduces the vampire to his producer Albin Grau (Udo Kier) and scriptwriter Henrick Galeen (John Gillet) as "Max Schreck", a truly professional "method actor" trained by Stanislavsky. Schreck performs his scenes suspiciously well, only appearing on the set at night and in character, keeping his end of the bargain with the director. Soon, however, his blood thirst takes over and he fearlessly threatens to eliminate, one by one, Murnau's most dispensable crew members.

Shadow of the Vampire stems from the premise that its protagonist, the fictional Murnau (Malkovich), must hire a real vampire in order to ensure a truly authentic representation of the vampire character, "Count Orlock", for his film Nosferatu. The viewer who seeks a more accurate portrayal of the making of the real Nosferatu may find this premise strained and far-fetched, and may even consider the film's ensuing humor a bit aimless. However, Shadow of the Vampire integrates the humorous premise to its metaphorical exploration of the artistic process and of the inevitable struggle between the star, the director and the crew. (In one scene, Schreck tries to secure his interests --a new victim-- by negotiating with Murnau. He reflects: "I don't think we need the writer any longer.") Aside from the film's complex treatment of the film within the film and of the character within the character (where Shadow of the Vampire re-presents Nosferatu, and Shadow's cast plays Nosferatu's cast), the film's most enjoyable aspect is its careful reconstruction of specific Nosferatu scenes. When demonstrating how Murnau shoots these well-known scenes, Shadow's own shots shift between black & white and color; from a full-frame to one enclosed by an iris. Shadow's recreation of the classic scenes are often accompanied by Murnau's off-screen voice-over instructions to the actors, who in turn stop in mid-shot, enter, or exit the frame. These choices offer a fantastic depiction of silent film technique, and they as well add new life and a sort of magical dimension to the original Nosferatu scenes. Undoubtedly, Shadow of the Vampire may be most fully appreciated by the viewer that has already developed a sensitive appreciation for Nosferatu's unforgettable images. Still, Shadow of the Vampire may be enjoyed as well by those fascinated by filmmaking or --as Shadow's Murnau put it-- by "the science of the creation of memory."
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Well made – the `who is the real monster' thing works really well
bob the moo27 May 2002
In 1922 filming of Murnau's movie `Nosferatu' has begun. Murnau has recruited the mysterious Max Shreck to play the lead role. Crew fall ill and Shreck never appears out of character or during the day. Fellow actor Gustav believes Shreck is an intense method actor – however Shreck is a real vampire and has agreed to star in the film in exchange for the neck of the leading lady when filming finishes. However Shreck's lust for blood continues to grow throughout the shoot.

This is an inventive film that looks at how far art will go to create. The director Murnau seems as driven by the creative process as Shreck is by his lust for blood. This comparison is carried through the whole film until the inevitable showdown between the two drives. The setup itself is fascinating but the comparison between the two men makes it even better.

The film is well shot and uses the different cameras well. It looks really good and mixes bright shots with shadowy darkness really well. It also benefits from a good cast. Malkovich is excellent as the driven director who easily becomes a monster himself but Dafoe is even better. Despite being almost unrecognisable under the make up, Dafoe manages to bring humanity to his monster – he also brings some humour without making his a comedy role. Elwes is underused, but Izzard is great as a bad 1920's actor!

Overall this may not inspire interest in everyone but it has a great cast and a good central story. The comparisons drawn between Murnau and Shreck only improve what is already a very enjoyable film.
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10/10
blew me away
ivahhc23 January 2001
This has got to be the pinnacle of movie making genius. Anyone even remotely interested in suspense, film making, vampires, German Expressionism, or simply in being entertained should make it a point to see this challenging, evocative, thought-provoking and funny film.

Reviewers I've read seemed outraged at the liberties the film took with the premise of Nosferatu. I thought it was an imaginative and extremely compelling take.

John Malkovich, as always, is brilliant, but nothing prepared me for how scintillating Willem Dafoe's Schreck was. The man is amazing.

I'm taking my friends to see it this weekend!
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Shadows, Reflections
tedg23 August 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Yet another film about film. The industry loves this stuff. So do actors when they get to play a character that acts. So do I. This time we have a very clever twist in how this is conceived, some interesting acting and a quirky director.

First the conception. Actors love playing actors, because that way they can play a few characters at once. Sometimes this occurs when the character isn't actually an actor but is acting nonetheless, as in con stories. Sometimes the actor adds the levels of himself and showing how he acts. But here we have a real twist: We have Defoe, playing a character which is pretending to be an actor but is actually the character that the actor is acting. What a marvelous idea! It must have swept through Hollywood.

I have no doubt that many actors rushed to get in on the idea. Superficially, the most quirky involvement is Cage as producer. Cage is intense in his acting, but among many attempts, we have never seen anything intelligent, just intense -- sometimes apt, mostly not. But he obviously wants to be smart. Watching him on the DVD talk about this, one can see how puffed up he is, and how clueless.

Dafoe is the right man for the job in one respect, he plays one character exceedingly well. But that's not where the gold is. The real payoff would have been him playing with the multiple layers of self-reference. He does do some amusing stuff with his poses which one could see as him trying act like a movie version of himself. Clearly this is his goal, but its not leveraged, or extended to other worlds. Still, this is worth watching.

Malkovich is another case altogether. He is like the fellow in the meeting who seems to do nothing, but if you take him out of the equation the meeting falls apart. Malkovich is cursed in that when he acts, you cannot see that he his acting. This is not as advantageous as it sounds to cast no shadow. Here's where he falls down. He gives lip service to the collapse of reality and imagination but doesn't actually live that collapse.

The other dimension of this film is the director's vision, and this is related to Malkovich's problem. This director does both get and have the stuff to live the collapse. His vision is strong, competent, and transports us. It successfully bridges the genuine `other' film vision and his own modern one. The former has its anchor in surrealism, the modern one in selfawareness. Merhige races ahead in his collapsing of layers and dimensions and visions, doing what Aranofski wishes he were. Malkovich is his screen avatar and should be leading the way, but doesn't. And he bungles the key trick.

That trick, which modern audiences will call the `Usual Suspects/Sixth Sense' twist, actually comes well before the end. We know that Mernau is a drug addict and that Greta is too. Also that `we don't need a writer anymore.' Also that the director is no longer in charge. The trick dimension is that the Count isn't really a vampire, just an actor that the drugs of the cast (and the general aether of Berlin is a drug here) make appear so. Watch when Greta sees the Count's reflection in the mirror. Everyone in the audience WILL see that reflection because it really is there. But she is convinced she doesn't, and I'll bet you were too.
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7/10
Dafoe is da man.
BA_Harrison12 April 2014
It is the age of the silent movie, and German expressionist director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) is determined to film his version of the Dracula story, whatever the cost to his cast and crew.

I've never really been a big fan of Nosferatu nor a particular admirer of Willem Dafoe, but this bizarre little movie has made me appreciate both much more. A fictionalised account of the making of F.W. Murnau's 1922 silent horror classic, Shadow of the Vampire toys with the notion that Nosferatu's star Max Schreck (played here by Dafoe) was actually a bona fide member of the undead.

This fanciful idea plays out a little too slowly, perhaps, but offers plenty of opportunity for dark humour, the cast delivering suitably offbeat performances that prove strangely intoxicating, with Dafoe's mesmerising turn as Shreck being the film's strongest suit, the actor's mannerisms and expressions played to perfection.

Casual movie fans who haven't seen Murnau's classic will probably wonder what the hell is going on, so I recommend seeing Nosferatu beforehand, just so that one can fully appreciate the magic of certain scenes and the brilliance of Dafoe's performance.
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10/10
dafoes best performance ever!!!!!!!!!!!!
datvmanlife18 April 2007
1st I say 10/10 definitely for this movie I loved it especially the end :D lol. Dafoe gives his best performance in this as max schrek it is also his strangest performance but thats what it is meant to be. john also gives an A+ performance but his best is being John Malkovich. this movie is about the director of the great movie nosferatu casting what is actually a vampire in the silent film. its plainly comedy because as we all know the real max wasn't a vampire XD. the first time i heard the story that they were gonna make max a real vamp in this i was on the floor for 10 mins. than i watched the movie and every time he acted like a vampire i lost it. i recommend this to everyone!!!!!!!!!
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9/10
Great movie!
Kristine3 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
One of the best movies about film I always list in Shadow of the Vampire, what a great idea! One of the biggest myths that circles around that film was the question if Max Schreck really was a vampire. He still to this day gave one of cinema's most chilling performances. Apparently he was "always in make up and character", wonder what it would have been like to try to just say hi to him, right? Then on top of all that his last name in German means "fright", it just doesn't get any better than that! So to take the idea that he really was a vampire and to translate on film what it took to make one of the most terrifying pictures in cinema, you have Shadow of the Vampire.

In 1921, German director Frederich Murnau takes his cast and crew on-location in Slovakia and Poland in order to shoot Nosferatu. He informs them that the person playing the part of the vampire Count Orlok, an obscure German theater performer named Max Schreck, is a highly professional character actor, but in order to involve himself fully in his character, he will only appear among the cast and crew in full make-up and character. Schreck is there waiting for the filming team, and his appearance and behavior are truly disquieting. The cameraman soon starts feeling terrorized and sick, and has to be taken away and replaced. The other main actor, Gustav von Wangenheim, is frightened of Schreck, but then convinces himself that Schreck is simply a very good actor. Maybe too good considering he starts to eat the cast and crew as payment for "playing" the evil vampire. Guess Hollywood still hasn't come that far since then.

I loved this movie, everything about it. Just like I'm sure the real Max Schreck would have received a nomination for his chilling performance, William Defoe made that up for him when he picked up the nomination. What a great performance by Defoe, one of those actors where you know he's got it in him to lose himself in the role and you're just memorized by him. His and John Malkovich's chemistry is just amazing and they play off each other so well. John pulls in a great performance as Murnau as well, so focused on the picture losing his humanity making you wonder who is the bigger monster? The make up effects were great and the whole atmosphere was just frightening. You literally feel like you're back in the time where silent films were made. Shadow of the Vampire is a terrific film and one 2000's best movies. I highly recommend it, if you're curious how a film is put together or just looking for good entertainment, the perfect mixture of dark humor and horror, Shadow of the Vampire is one not to be missed.

9/10
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10/10
Unforgettable
mercury-264 March 2001
The idea behind this film is one that was just waiting to be utilized. So great is this material for cinema, once the idea is actually executed, more is the shame if it's not done with a sure hand. I'm pleased to report that "Shadow" is one of 2000's finest. I still giggle at the genius of the its premise, that the mysterious star of the 1922 vampire classic "Nosferatu", Max Schreck, was a real vampire! True, after his debut, Schreck went on to make many more films. But "Shadow" offers a tasty 'what if' scenario that's irresistible.

F.W. Murnau, the obsessive director of "Nosferatu" doesn't feel he can make a realistic enough vampire movie with an actor in the title role. While traveling through Transylvania Murnau meets Count Orlock, an actual bloodsucker and makes a deal with him to star in his new film. Because the director has cast a genuine monster as his lead, his cast and crew start to disappear until finally...well, not exactly. Orlock isn't the kind of vampire we've come to imagine because of Hollywood, but a simple recluse living alone in a castle. That's the coup that director E. Elias Mehridge and writer Stephen Katz pull. There is no attempt to make this a horror film. It's as scary as the old black-and-white silent horror films are to us in our computer effects-driven era of movies. Most of the time these films are good for a laugh from a modern audience. But the directors of those old films were always after something dark, deep, and meaningful. The screams they produced were simply a side effect.

The problems that Murnau encounters arise out of Schreck's very real vampire needs. For starters, he's cast a man who is not an actor. "Shadow" is not a comedy, but it's funny seeing Murnau's idea of a vampire clash with Schreck's. Schreck can't possibly act like a vampire. He IS one. The first scenes they use him in (he'll only appear at night of course) are disastrous. He doesn't follow direction, doesn't follow the script, and just acts weird. Willem Dafoe, under tons of make-up, perfectly portrays a guy who obviously doesn't get out very much. Eventually the cast and crew change their opinion of Schreck from believing he's awful to seeing him as a very committed method actor (the producer and writer witness him catch a bat in mid-flight and eat it).

Mehridge goes out of his way to bring the audience something completely original and succeeds. Even though "shadow" is based on the making of another film, every image, every word of dialogue seems painstakingly crafted to give you something you've never seen before. Mehridge is definitely one to watch.

Grade: A
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1/10
Dafoe was great. The movie was dull.
kommonreviewer17 June 2001
Dafoe's acting prowess was well wasted on this movie. Very dull as there were so many scenes that dragged on agonizingly. This movie is not for movie fans, but rather for movie actors, critics, directors and the like. You can easily find a better thing to do than watch this movie.
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8/10
Shadow of the Vampire is one that sticks with you.
txmayer8923 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
First off, I want to praise the writer, Steven Katz, for this idea. To base it off an urban legend that shows just how powerful Max Schreck's performance in Nosferatu was, and do it so well, was really genius. The film starts of strong, slows down some, and then finishes with an absolute bang. The ending is one of the most captivating that I have seen in some time. John Malkovich puts on an incredible performance, and echoes just how far a director will go to complete a vision. Defoe also does a great job in his portrayal of Nosferatu. I just can't even describe how much I enjoyed the ending. The progression of the characters culminate in a grand spectacle of the past and the present. "I think we have it."
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7/10
"We are scientists engaged in the creation of memory... but our memory will neither blur nor fade."
Kirk Ostojic2 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
E. Elias Merhige's 2000 film "Shadow of the Vampire" is a very strange and interesting film. I walked into this film thinking it was a 'making of' film, like "My Week With Marilyn" or "Hitchcock," except this time it was the making of the 1922 silent horror classic "Nosferatu." It looks and feels like that kind of film at first, but it is not.

There are real people being portrayed. John Malkovich plays a drug addicted F.W. Murnau and Willem Dafoe brilliantly plays the method actor Max Schreck. I'm not sure if Murnau was a drug addict or if Schreck was obsessed with embodying Count Orlock, but I don't think this film really cares about the facts. It doesn't really have to since it is a movie.

The story is about the making of "Nosferatu," but instead of concerning itself with what happened, Merhige focuses on the filmmaking process and why filmmakers do what they do, whether it is the director, actor, cinematographer, and so on. "Shadow of the Vampire" makes us look at what silent filmmakers had to do in order to make a movie and how much passion can be put into a project. Sometimes that passion can become just as horrific as the movie itself.

Because of this focus on the filmmaking process, character development kind of gets left behind. Sometimes things don't feel like they have context. The movie is more about ideas of filmmaking than telling a true account of what happened on the set of "Nosferatu." I don't know exactly why they added the dug addiction part, because it takes away from the main theme of the movie and it isn't really explained. Maybe you can interpret the film in different ways because of it. I guess it's the audience's decision.

"Shadow of the Vampire" seems to be one thing at first and then turns into something else by the end. It's a film that probably deserves a second viewing in order to be fully appreciated. There are great performances and it gives an interesting look at the filmmaking process and why filmmakers do what they do.
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7/10
I vant your bloood...
punishmentpark3 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
According to the thread, 'Shadow...' is a film that can be perceived in many ways. I agree with the opinion that it is partly based on the true legend of the enigmas Max Schreck and F.W. Murnau, but from there on out takes its own course into a black supernatural horror comedy. And simply for that, I really liked it.

The film has a nice, creepy atmosphere to it, for which we may thank most of the cast, and particularly - of course - Willem Dafoe. The settings (Luxembourg) are excellent, as well, and the going in and out of the silent film framing is an essential touch. The part of Murnau becoming a worse beast than 'Max' worked okay, but with all the adding of over the top comedic details... I'm not sure - though that (comedic) part of it works in keeping the supernatural side of it in perspective.

Thoroughly enjoyable in any case. For this (second) viewing: a big 7 out of 10.
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10/10
One of my all-time favorites
Jason Kolman1 May 2013
One of my all-time favorite films. I never get bored of watching it. An absolutely epic performance from Willem Dafoe and a hilarious depiction of Herr Doktor Murnau by Malkovich combine to make an unforgettable film.

I did not have the pleasure of seeing this when it was released in the theaters. I actually found a copy after it was released on DVD and being intrigued by the description, made the purchase. It has become a mainstay of my DVD collection, one that I would never trade in after viewing. It's such a fun film and so full of imagination. It only gets better on repeat viewings as you start to pick up on the little nuances of the performances.
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7/10
A Contagious Conceit
LeonLouisRicci1 February 2013
An entertaining "what if?" homage to Silent Film Director Murnau who is best remembered for his iconic Vampire Film Nosferatu (1922). For most enjoyment of this quirky send-off, see that Film first, not only for grounding, but it is truly a seminal work and is quite a capturing experience and Max Schreck's Vampire has become a Horror Movie symbol.

This is a beautiful film with sumptuous cinematography, wardrobe, and sets. The performances range from static to sensational with an unrecognizable Willem Dafoe stealing the show. Although, there is a lot left to embrace even when he leaves the frame.

It is an offbeat movie to say the least and will be a tough swallow for some. It does wallow in its own craziness but not to the point of distraction. There are some rough inconsistencies to the story but are swept away in the fun and creepiness of it all.

For those willing to imagine the absurd this is quite a conceit to behold. It is all believable in a world gone mad sort of way and it is presented in such a reverential and dutiful way that it can't help but be admired.
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10/10
This is hardly your picture any longer!
DarthVoorhees10 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Here we have one of the most original premises ever. Max Schreck's performance as the title vampire in F.W Murnau's Vampire masterpiece Nosferatu is so uncanny, so life like we loose our grasp on reality and believe. Nosferatu is a rarity among horror movies, it get's better with age and it's still fresh and scary after multiple viewings. This is largely thanks to Schreck. He's become more legend than man due to Nosferatu and Shadow of the Vampire preys on that.

FW Murnau is filming his vampire film as the movie begins. His cast and crew are left in the dark about the film's key ingredient, the Count. Murnau displeases his financiers when he moves production to Czechoslovakia to accommodate his star. The setting of the old inn creates perfect mood as it's real life inhabitants believe in vampires. Murnau introduces Schreck as the ultimate method actor, a man so engulfed in his character he will only appear in full make-up and as the vampire. Murnau is the ultimate realist and he plans to make a masterpiece even if he has to sacrifice a few necks to do so...

Shadow of the Vampire is a modern Vampire masterpiece. The vampire genre had been dry since Oldman portrayed the Count. Shadow of the Vampire understands that a lot of people aren't scared by vampires any more and that type of movie goer is who they market this film to.

One of Shadow's strongest points is it's sense of humor. Schreck's rant about how he didn't like Dracula because he "had no servants" is hilarious in a very dry way. Lines like Sit back and let the vampire do the work bring a smile to my face. Shadow pokes fun at the genre but also respects it.

I really loved how Murnau is portrayed here. All though he is over dramatic for fictitious sake, the realist emotional storytelling methods were very ingrained in the German expressionist movement. There's a great scene in the movie where after seeing his cinematographer on the brink of death, Murnau suggests that maybe it isn't all bad because after all it scared the cast and crew.

Shadows' strongest asset is it's vampire. Willem Dafoe is picture perfect in the title role. Dafoe matches Shreck in every single way. There are scenes from Nosferatu within the film where I wondered if it was the real Schreck or Dafoe. The outstanding make-up mixed with Dafoe's performance create the most realistic vampire ever.
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