The year is 1922. German director F.W.Murneau is filming his masterpiece, Nosferatu, based on the Dracula story. The film will be his masterpiece, and his drive for utter realism and the perfect picture knows no bounds. So far, so much historical fact. But what if...? The basic premise of this intriguing film is `what if Max Schreck, the actor hired to play Orlock, was really a vampire?'
This is an intriguing premise, which promises much and delivers more. `Shadow Of The Vampire' follows the troubled shooting of Nosferatu, with mysterious deaths and illnesses in the cast and crew. Schreck at first appears to be the ultimate method actor, never out of character, but we are slowly lead to suspect that there is a bit more to it than that. The build up of the character, and the peeling away of the layers until the truth is revealed is expertly done. The final denouement, where Murneau finally gets the realism he has been looking for, is thrilling, all the more so from the expert build up of the tension in the preceding 75 minutes.
John Malkovitch stars as the realism obsessed Murneau, a part he plays very well. I suspect that this is largely due to him being a very similar character in real life. Eddie Izzard is entertaining as the silent film star Gustav. The real star of the show though is Willem Dafoe, unrecognisable under his Oscar nominated makeup as Shreck/Orlock. As with the real Schreck in Nosferatu he manages to do so much with only expression and gesture. Just watching him rubbing his fingers fills one with real horror.