Shadow of the Vampire
|Shadow of the Vampire|
|Directed by||E. Elias Merhige|
|Produced by||Nicolas Cage
|Written by||Steven Katz|
|Music by||Dan Jones|
|Editing by||Royinba Onijala|
|Distributed by||Lions Gate Films|
|Running time||92 minutes|
Shadow of the Vampire is a horror film released in 2000 directed by E. Elias Merhige and written by Steven Katz, and starring John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, and Udo Kier. The film is a fictionalized account of the making of the classic vampire film Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, directed by F. W. Murnau, in which the film crew begin to have disturbing suspicions about their lead actor. The film borrows the techniques of silent films, including the use of intertitles to explain elided action and iris lenses.
The film received two Academy Award nominations, Best Supporting Actor and Best Makeup, but lost to Traffic and How The Grinch Stole Christmas, respectively. Shadow of the Vampire received both critical and commercial success. The film currently has a rating of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes.
In 1921, German director Frederich Wilhelm Murnau (John Malkovich) takes his Berlin-based cast and crew on-location in Czechoslovakia in order to shoot Nosferatu, an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. Much to their frustration, Murnau keeps his team very much in the dark about their schedule, and even more so about the actor he has found to play the part of the vampire Count Orlok. It is left to the film's other main actor, Gustav von Wangenheim (Eddie Izzard) to explain to them that the mysterious lead is apparently an obscure German theater performer named Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe), who, according to Murnau, is a highly professional character actor. In order to involve himself fully in his role, Schreck will only appear among the cast and crew in full make-up, and will never break character.
After filming the beginning scenes of his film in a sound stage with his leading actress, Greta Schroeder (Catherine McCormack) who is extremely displeased about having to leave Berlin, Murnau and his team travel to the remote inn where they will be staying and shooting further scenes for the picture. During their stay, however, the landlady becomes distressed at Murnau removing many of the crucifixes around the inn, and the cameraman, Wolfgang Muller (Ronan Vibert) begins to fall in to a strange, hypnotic state. Further strange things happen as Gustav discovers a bottle of blood amongst the team's food supplies, and Murnau delivers a caged ferret to a derelict cellar in the middle of the night, apparently as food for a strange creature.
One night, Murnau rushes his team up to the main setting for his film, an old Slovak castle, for the first scene with the vampire. Schreck appears to them for the first time, and his appearance and behavior both impress and disturb them. The film's producer, Albin Grau (Udo Kier) however, suspects that Schreck is not really a German theater actor, and is confused when Murnau tells him that he in fact found Schreck in the old castle. Soon after the completion of the scene, Wolf is found collapsed in a dark tunnel. Upon returning to the inn, the landlady appears frightened by his pale, weak appearance, and mutters "Nosferatu" while clutching at a rosary.
The next night, Murnau and his team continue filming up at the castle, and the tension between Murnau and his star begins to show. Whilst filming a dinner scene between Gustav and Count Orlok, Murnau deliberately startles Gustav, making him cut his finger with a bread knife. Schreck reacts wildly at the sight of the blood, and, urged on by Murnau, tries to drink from Gustav's wound. The rest of the crew look on in horror, when suddenly, the generator powering the lights fails, plunging everything in to darkness. When the lights come back on again, Murnau is furious to find Schreck pinning Wolf to the floor, apparently draining his blood. Albin orders filming to end for the night, and the crew rushes from the castle, carrying Wolf and leaving Schreck behind. Left alone, Schreck curiously examines some of the camera equipment, and appears fascinated and entranced by some footage of a sunrise.
It is revealed that Schreck is, in fact, a vampire who Murnau has made a deal with, in order to create the most realistic vampire film possible. Schreck has been promised Greta as a prize for completing his role in the film, but he remains difficult and unco-operative with the fanatical Murnau, until the entire production is at his mercy, and in danger of ruin. With Wolf close to death, Murnau is forced to bring in another cinematographer from Berlin, Fritz Arno Wagner (Cary Elwes) in order to continue filming. During Murnau's absence, Albin and the film's scriptwriter, Henrik Galeen (John Aden Gillet) share a drink together by a campfire, when Schreck approaches them. They invite him to join them, and begin to question Schreck (in what they still believe is his vampire 'character',) about the accuracy of the Dracula novel. Schreck (somewhat sadly and bitterly,) points out the flaw of the centuries old Count Dracula still being able to remember how to do everyday 'human' activities, such as preparing a meal, even though he hasn't eaten food in centuries. He tells Albin and Henrik that he himself is so old, he cannot remember how he became a vampire (though he alludes briefly to a tryst he had with a mysterious woman,) and cannot create more of his own kind. A bat flies by and Schreck catches it with a quick hand, sucking its blood, ecstatically from its body. The others are left stunned and impressed by what they still assume is talented acting.
The troubled production is eventually left stranded on an island in the middle of the North Sea, and Murnau, in a drug-induced stupor, admits Schreck's true nature to Albin and Fritz. The two realise that they have no choice but to complete the film and give Greta to the vampire in the last scene if they wish to leave the island alive. When an unsuspecting Greta arrives for filming, however, she notices that Schreck casts no reflection in a mirror. Murnau, Albin, and Fritz are forced to drug her, and Schreck feeds on her while the others film the scene. At dawn, with Greta nearly dead, the remaining three attempt to let sunlight into the building to destroy Schreck, but find that he has anticipated their trickery. Schreck kills Fritz and Albin while Murnau (in a state of shock) continues to operate the camera. The rest of the crew arrives in time to open up the doors and flood the set with sunlight, finally destroying Schreck while Murnau films his death.
Murnau completes the filming and calmly states "I think we have it", while his rescuers look on at the carnage.
- John Malkovich as Frederich Wilhelm Murnau, the director of Nosferatu
- Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck, who plays Count Orlok/Count Dracula
- Udo Kier as Albin Grau, the producer, art director, and costume designer
- Cary Elwes as Fritz Arno Wagner, the cinematographer
- Catherine McCormack as Greta Schroeder, who plays Ellen Hutter/Mina Harker
- Eddie Izzard as Gustav von Wangenheim, who plays Thomas Hutter/Jonathan Harker
- John Aden Gillet as Henrik Galeen, the screenwriter
- Nicholas Elliott – Paul
- Ronan Vibert – Muller
- Sophie Langevin – Elke
- Myriam Muller – Maria
Production and financing 
The film's working title was Burned to Light, but the director E. Elias Merhige decided to change the name of the film when Willem Dafoe asked, "Who's Ed?"; the actor thought the title was Burn Ed to Light.
The film was produced by Nicolas Cage's Saturn Films. Members of the online community "The HollyWood Stock Exchange" were able to donate a small sum towards the film's production, in exchange for listing their name on the DVD release of the film as "Virtual producers".
Of the film's cast, two actors had previously appeared in vampire movies: Udo Kier played Count Dracula in Blood for Dracula (1974) and Dragonetti in Blade (1998) while Cary Elwes played Arthur Holmwood in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992).
Critical reaction to Shadow of the Vampire has been mostly positive, with the film earning a rating of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert gave the film 3½ stars out of 4, writing that "director E. Elias Merhige and his writer, Steven Katz, do two things at the same time. They make a vampire movie of their own, and they tell a backstage story about the measures that a director will take to realize his vision", and that Dafoe "embodies the Schreck of Nosferatu so uncannily that when real scenes from the silent classic are slipped into the frame, we don't notice a difference." Ebert later awarded the film his Special Jury Prize on his list of "The Best 10 Movies of 2000", writing of Dafoe's "astonishing performance" and of the film, "Avoiding the pitfall of irony; it plays the material straight, which is truly scary."
Shadow of the Vampire won several awards:
- the Prix Tournage
- the Saturn Award
- the Gran Angular Award
- the International Fantasy Film Award
- the President Award
- the Golden Satellite Award
- the Independent Spirit Award
- the LAFCA Award for Willem Dafoe
- the Bram Stoker Award for Steven Katz
- "Shadow of a Vampire Box Office Data". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved October 8, 2011.
- Dread Central's Best Horror Films of the Decade
- Shadow of the Vampire Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes
- Bonus features on Shadow of the Vampire DVD - Interview with E. Elias Merhige.
- Shadow Of The Vampire :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews
- The Best 10 Movies of 2000 :: rogerebert.com :: News & comment
- Shadow of the Vampire at the Internet Movie Database
- Shadow of the Vampire at AllRovi
- Shadow of the Vampire at Box Office Mojo
- Shadow of the Vampire at Rotten Tomatoes
- Learn about the real F.W. Murnau, Max Schreck and the silent film Nosferatu, featured in Shadow of the Vampire