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Movie Review - Shadow of the Vampire (2000 - United States)

Updated on May 29, 2012

Hilarious, creepy and thought provoking--this film has it all!

The concept behind this wonderful, witty and scary movie is as audacious as it is ambitious: Retell the story of the troubled production of F.W. Murnau’s 1921 classic silent film, Nosferatu , with the added touch of proposing that Murnau cast an actual vampire rather than the credited actor, Max Schreck, as Graf Orlok, aka Nosferatu. The vampire’s payment for filling the role? Well, that would be the film’s winsome leading lady, Greta Schröder. During production, however, the vampire has a few appetizers, resulting in the loss of crew members, yet the fictional Murnau’s explanation of the oddity of having a vampire on the set—that he is a method actor who is so into the role that he refuses to appear out of makeup and character—is believed by the cast and crew.


The story behind the story

In reality, the making of Nosferatu was indeed fraught with all sorts of difficulties, from the technical challenges presented by Murnau’s insistence on employing groundbreaking camera and lighting methods, to legal barriers imposed by the widow of Dracula author Bram Stoker, who made repeated attempts to shut down production of the picture over copyright infringement, to rumors that Max Schreck was indeed not Max Schreck. Because the word “schreck” means “terror," there was widespread popular suspicion that he was actually Alfred Abel, a better-known German actor, working under a pseudonym and with the cloak of the Nosferatu makeup. This wasn’t true—Max Schreck did indeed exist and was a respected stage actor before entering films with Nosferatu —but the rumors that swirled around the film’s production no doubt helped inspire Steven Katz, who wrote the screenplay for Shadow of the Vampire.

Watch this terrific movie:


All of those undercurrents twine through Shadow of the Vampire, which pays homage to Murnau and his terrific film while at the same time having great fun with a scary concept. Both John Malkovich as director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck/the vampire, are remarkable, walking the thin, silken line between horror and comedy with utter grace. Daffoe in makeup as Max Schreck looks so much like Max Schreck in makeup as Nosferatu that when footage from the silent film are cut into the newer one, it is a completely seamless transition. Adding to the wonder of this picture is the gorgeous set design, which brings the world of cinematography in 1921 and Nosferatu back to life. Throughout, there are wonderful, witty little tidbits that break the tension of a story that is not in any way a parody of a horror film—make no mistake about it, Shadow of the Vampire is, like Nosferatu, is the real deal.

Watch the trailer for Shadow of a Vampire:

It is not a prerequisite that you watch Nosferatu in order to enjoy Shadow of the Vampire, but putting the two on a double bill is just about the perfect way to introduce yourself not only to Murnau—one of film’s greatest innovators—but to the fascinating history of film.

Shadow of the Vampire is one of my favorite movies of all time. I recommend it as highly as I can any picture—enjoy!

(I am an artist and the author of the Suburban Sprawl series of novels as well as two nonfiction books. Find out more about my work at

Copyright © Roberta Lee 2012. All rights reserved.


Shadow of the Vampire:

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Horror

Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Directed By: E. Elias Merhige

Written By: Steven Katz

In Theaters: Dec 29, 2000 Wide

On DVD: May 29, 2001

Box Office: $7.5M

Distributed By: Lions Gate Releasing


John Malkovich - Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

Willem Dafoe - Max Schreck

Udo Kier - Albin Grau

Cary Elwes - Fritz Arno Wagner

Catherine McCormack - Greta Schröder

Eddie Izzard - Gustav von Wangenhein


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Have you seen Nosferatu, the 1922 film that inspired Shadow of the Vampire?

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