A blackly comic metafictional account of the making of “Nosferatu”, positing the idea that F W Murnau was prepared to go to any lengths in order to capture his masterwork, even turning a blind eye to the real-life vampire he has found to ‘play’ Count Orlok.
Supported by a great performance from John Malkovich as Murnau and a sensational performance by Willem Dafoe as Max Shreck as Count Orlok, Director E Elias Merhige and screenwriter Steven Katz manage to pull off an unlikely double, producing not only a sharp satire of the behind the scenes machinations of a director willing to go to any lengths to achieve his vision but also a creepy, effective vampire story in its own right.
Informed by an art-house sensibility but infused with an knowing irony, the film fictionalises the actual production in several ways, most notably the number of backstage personnel who die at the hands of the vampire, something that pointedly didn’t happen during the making of the actual film. Furthermore, the driven, dictatorial portrayal of Murnau here is at odds with the actual man himself, who was reputed to be a kind and considerate man. Nevertheless, this playfully macabre speculation on the ‘what ifs’ of filming with an actual vampire is tremendous fun (even if it does side-step the whole ‘can you film a vampire?’ question), so much so that it’s scarecely believable that Producer Nicholas Cage didn’t find some excuse to join in the on-screen madness. Offering a fascinating insight into the challenges and technical processes of making a film nearly a century ago, Merhige uses many of the same techniques as silent films, such as intertitles to explain events not shown on screen and iris lenses to mark scene transitions. It’s Dafoe, though, who astonishes, disappearing into the role of Shreck/ Orlok so completely that there are moments in the film when actual frames of the original are shown or used and it’s difficult to spot which is which.
The supporting cast, bolstered by the presence of the likes of Udo Kier (himself no stranger to outré takes on the Dracula myth), Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack and Eddie Izzard, “Shadow Of The Vampire” is top class entertainment, and deserves a place alongside the likes of “The Player” in turning the lens inwards on the filmmaking process. Evocative, challenging and even poignant and thought-provoking, this is a must-see for fans of vampire cinema and filmmaking in general.