Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie’s plot.
I am a huge fan of F.W.Murnau’s Nosferatu. It always lands on my top five movies of all time list (along with Alien, The Exorcist, and a couple others that rotate through). Thus, I was very excited when I saw the first trailer for Shadow of the Vampire many months ago. Unfortunately, as I continued to see the trailer repeatedly I became less enthused. And now that I have experienced the complete film I have very mixed emotions.
John Malkovich plays F.W. Murnau, arguably the greatest German director of all time, in his quest to capture a vampire tale on film. In his never-ending search for realism Murnau hires an actual vampire (Willem Defoe) to play the part of Count Orlock (aka Dracula). The vampire turns out to be much more difficult to control then Murnau originally thought and blood is soon being drained from vital crew members.
First off, if you have not seen the original Nosferatu, leave your computer now and go rent or purchase a copy. (then come back and finish/rate this review 🙂 Not only is the film a masterpiece in and of itself, but familiarity with the original will increase your enjoyment of Shadow of the Vampire tenfold.
Willem Defoe looks amazingly like Max Shreck who played Count Orlock in Nosferatu. He also managed to grasp many of the mannerisms Shreck used in portraying the undead Count. His portrayal is nothing short of spectacular.
John Malkovich is passable as Murnau, but then, I’ve never been a huge Malkovich fan in the first place. While he does get to issue many wonderful lines espousing Murnau’s thoughts on cinema as both art and science I find it difficult to take him seriously.
The rest of the cast turns in performances in the acceptable to good range, but few of them have much to work with. This is the tale of Murnau and his vampire. The rest are merely window (set?) dressing.
The true star here (other then Defoe) is the cinematography. Scenes from the original film have been recreated both lovingly and accurately. Devices such as the use of displaying Shreck’s shadow well before he enters the frame are used to good effect, and this is the first time in many years I recall the blending of black & white and color sequences being something other than annoying. Here it is not only appropriate, but well done as well.
If you are hoping to get some insight into what it was like to film Nosferatu (or any silent movie for that matter) you will be sorely disappointed. This is a work of fiction first and foremost. If you’re looking for true background I recommend you read Murnau by Lotte H. Eisner if you can find a copy.