This is a movie about making a movie, "Team Edward" beware, this is the original movie vampire, he doesn't sparkle, in fact he's the scariest movie vampire of all time, in my humble opinion. It is true that in 1922 silent film director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (played by John Malkovich) tried to get the movie rights to the book Dracula from Brahm Stokers widow, and it's true that she turned him down. He then changed the names of the characters, called it Nosferatu, and made the movie anyway, plagiarising Stokers work, he was later sued by Stokers widow and most copies of the film Nosferatu were destroyed, but it resurfaced and is now a cult classic of Gothic horror.
The premise behind Shadow of the Vampire, which is inspired by actual rumors of the time, is that Murnau didn't hire an actor to play Count Orlok, but used an actual vampire! Directed by E. Elias Merhige and written by Steven Katz, Shadow of the Vampire is a thriller sure to please.
The cast and crew were told Max Schreck was a student of the Stanislovski school of acting, and he would only appear on the set in full costume and makeup, in character the entire time, and that they would only film at night. Eddie Izzard plays Gustav the lead male actor in the movie, and it's perfect casting. Anyone who has seen his stand up show knows that he does lots of exaggerated expressions, exactly like the old silent film stars of the day.
He meets "Max Schreck" for the first time actually in the scene where his character meets the vampire, its an amazing scene to watch, Gustav seems genuinely freaked out, while the director encourages him to follow the ghoul, then he's congratulated on such a great scene! And why shouldn't he be freaked out, under all that Nosferatu makeup is Willem Dafoe! As in, "I can't sleep Willem Dafoe is under my bed." Let's face it, he's very good at playing a really creepy guy. This movie in no exception, you can practically smell death coming from the screen when he appears.
I love this movie, it's equal parts of very fun and totally creepy. Maybe I wasn't supposed to laugh at parts, but I couldn't help myself on occasion. I laughed out loud when they are filming a scene in John Malkavich calls to his assistant in a slightly annoyed and halting tone "Albin... a native... has wondered into my frame!" When Schreck first sees the photo of the lead actress Greta (Catherine McCormack) during a scene, he comments on her bosom the which the director Murnau responds, "Give the lip readers a thrill."
There are some great scenes in which Murnau argues with Schreck over which members of the cast and crew he is allowed to feed on! Murnau says exasperatedly, "Go ahead! Eat the writer! That will leave you explaining how your character gets to Bremen!"
By the end, the viewer finds that they have been wondering for some time, who is the real monster, Schreck or Murnau?
If you think it might be dangerous to make a Faustian pact with a real vampire to star in your horror film, you would be correct. But I won't tell the many ways in which this is true, you'll just have to watch it. After you do, to gain total appreciation for it, I recommend that you watch the old original silent film Nosferatu!