Shadow of the Vampire

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Shadow of the Vampire
ShadowoftheVampireposter.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed by E. Elias Merhige
Produced by Nicolas Cage
Jeff Levine
Written by Steven Katz
Starring John Malkovich
Willem Dafoe
Cary Elwes
John Aden Gillet
Eddie Izzard
Udo Kier
Catherine McCormack
Ronan Vibert
Music by Dan Jones
Cinematography Lou Bogue
Edited by Chris Wyatt
Production
company
Distributed by Lions Gate Films
Release dates
  • December 29, 2000 (2000-12-29)
Running time
92 minutes[1]
Country Luxembourg
United Kingdom
United States
Language English
German
Luxembourgish
Budget $8 million[2]
Box office $11,155,214

Shadow of the Vampire is a 2000 metafiction comedy horror film directed by E. Elias Merhige, written by Steven Katz, and starring John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe. The film is a fictionalised 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.[3]

Plot[edit]

In 1921, German director F. W. Murnau takes his cast and crew on-location in Czechoslovakia to shoot Nosferatu, an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. Murnau keeps his team in the dark about their schedule and the actor playing the vampire Count Orlok. It is left to the film's other main actor, Gustav von Wangenheim, to explain that the lead is an obscure German theater performer named Max Schreck, who is a character actor. To involve himself fully in his role, Schreck will only appear amongst the cast and crew in makeup, and will never break character.

After filming scenes in a studio with leading actress Greta Schroeder, who is displeased about leaving Berlin, Murnau's team travels to the remote inn where they will be staying and shooting further scenes. The landlady becomes distressed at Murnau removing crucifixes around the inn, and the cameraman, Wolfgang Muller, falls into a strange, hypnotic state. Gustav discovers a bottle of blood amongst the team's food supplies, and Murnau delivers a caged ferret in the middle of the night.

One night, Murnau rushes his team up to an old Slovak castle for the first scene with the vampire. Schreck appears for the first time, and his appearance and behavior impress and disturb them. The film's producer, Albin Grau, suspects that Schreck is not a German theater actor, and is confused when Murnau tells him that he found Schreck in the 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.

Whilst filming a dinner scene between Gustav and Count Orlok, Murnau startles Gustav, making him cut his finger. Schreck reacts wildly at the sight of the blood, and tries drinking from Gustav's wound. The generator powering the lights fails and when the lights return, Schreck has pinned Wolf to the floor, apparently draining his blood. Albin orders filming ended for the night, and the crew rushes from the castle, leaving Schreck behind. Schreck examines the camera equipment, fascinated by footage of a sunrise.

Schreck is in fact an actual vampire, and Murnau has struck a deal in order to create the most realistic vampire film possible. Murnau has promised him Greta as a reward, but Schreck remains a difficult star. With Wolf near death, Murnau is forced to bring in another cinematographer, Fritz Arno Wagner. During Murnau's absence, Schreck approaches Albin and the screenwriter, Henrik Galeen. They invite him to join them, and question Schreck, believing he is still in character. Schreck points out Dracula's loneliness, and the sadness of Dracula trying to remember how to perform the everyday activities. When they ask how he became a vampire, Schreck says it was a woman. A bat flies by and Schreck catches it, sucking its blood. The others are impressed by what they assume is talented acting.

The production moves to Heligoland to film the final scenes, and Murnau admits Schreck's true nature to Albin and Fritz. The two realise they are trapped, leaving no choice but to complete the film and give Greta to the vampire if they wish to survive. Greta becomes hysterical after noticing Schreck casts no reflection. Murnau, Albin and Fritz drug her, and film the scene as Schreck feeds on Greta, killing her, but the laudanum in her blood puts Schreck to sleep. At dawn, the remaining three attempt to open a door and let in sunlight to destroy Schreck. Schreck previously cut the chain, having learned of their trickery. Schreck kills Fritz and Albin while Murnau continues filming. Henrik and the crew arrive in time to lift the door and flood the set with sunlight, destroying Schreck while Murnau films his death.

Cast[edit]

The film depicts several of the major characters as being killed by the vampire; however, historically these individuals continued to live long lives after the film's production. Fritz Wagner and Albin Grau, who are shown having their necks snapped by Count Orlok, lived to the 1950s and 70s respectively. Greta Schroeder, who also did not actually die, continued to have a successful film career until the 1950s. Of all the characters, Murnau himself died the soonest after the production of Nosferatu, killed in a car crash in California in 1931. The film's depiction of Murnau as ruthless and dictatorial is also wrong, he was known as a genius director with rare sensitivity.[4]

Production[edit]

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.[5]

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, three actors had previously appeared in vampire films: Kier played Count Dracula in Blood for Dracula (1974) and Dragonetti in Blade (1998) while Elwes played Arthur Holmwood in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) and Dafoe as 2nd Phone Booth Youth in The Hunger (1983).

Film producer Nicolas Cage has previously acted with Malkovich and Dafoe in Con Air (1997) and Wild at Heart (1990) respectively.[6][7]

Reception[edit]

Critical reaction to Shadow of the Vampire has been mostly positive with Dafoe's performance as a silent era actor receiving particular praise. It holds a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 81%.[8] 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."[9] 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."[10]

Awards[edit]

Shadow of the Vampire won several awards:

Willem Dafoe was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]