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Shadow of the Vampire, biographical film, biography, review, biopic

Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Let’s get something straight right off the bat (so to speak). Max Schreck was not a vampire. Yet his performance as Count Orlok was so eerily effective that one could almost be forgiven for thinking so. It is this myth that Shadow of the Vampire deliciously explores. Part horror, part comedy, part drama, part fantasy, the one genre that the film least belongs to is biopic. Nevertheless, we couldn’t resist including it in this collection of movies about movies.


After a painfully long credit sequence, the movie opens with F. W. Murnau completing the last studio shot for Nosferatu. Delighted to finally be free of such artifice, he embarks with cast and crew to Czechoslovakia for location shooting. Waiting for them is the mysterious Max Schreck, a ‘method actor’ who shares Murnau’s quest for realism.


Willem Dafoe is great fun as Max Schreck. The rest of the cast, notably John Malkovich as the equally maniacal F.W. Murnau, plays it straight, letting the comical conceit of the story provide the laughs. At just over 90 minutes, Shadow of the Vampire is a relatively short film, yet it does lag towards the end as subplots involving drug use are added but not fully explored. Thankfully the film rouses for the last scene, providing a horrifying finale to a film that contains few, if any, genuine scares.


Though unavoidably uneven in tone, Shadow of the Vampire is almost successful in straddling so many genres. Perhaps the last words spoken by Murnau onscreen give voice to every director’s common lament - “I think we have it”.

cast, John Malkovich, F W Murnau, Willem Dafoe, Max Schreck
fact check, factcheck, fact vs fiction, inaccuracies, true story

Scenes featuring Max Schreck were actually filmed during the day.


Unlike the multi-camera shots depicted in this film, only one camera was used during filming Nosferatu.

F W Murnau was not the dictatorial director depicted in this film.


None of the cast or crew were killed during production of Nosferatu


....and Max Schreck wasn't a vampire!

film clip, scene comparison, video, nosferatu, cary elwes

"We watched [Nosferatu] a lot... We would get together and it would be amazing how some people would see different things than other people, watching the same thing. It was a lesson about perception. And sometimes we'd argue about what we actually saw. Because the rule was that, as much as possible, we'd try to recreate those moments."

Willem Dafoe

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