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Film / Shadow of the Vampire

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F. W. Murnau: I will not allow you to destroy my picture!
Max Schreck: This is hardly your picture any longer.

Shadow of the Vampire is a 2000 film directed by E. Elias Merhige, starring John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe.

Malkovich plays F. W. Murnau, the German director who sets out to make his most identifiable film, Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens, in 1922. To make his somewhat lawyer-friendly take on Dracula, he hires the mysterious Max Schreck to play the vampire Count Orlock. Murnau knows that Schreck is a real-life vampire, and he's hired the actor to ensure a real-life performance. But, he's really bitten off more than he can chew this time...


This film provides examples of:

  • Age Without Youth: Schreck has lived centuries, and he looks it.
  • All Part of the Show: When Schreck grabs a bat and chomps down on it in front of two crewmembers, one of them says admiringly, "What an actor!"
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The obvious one: the film's premise is that the urban myth that Max Schreck was a real vampire is not a myth. Any reputable source will attest to Schreck having been an accomplished stage actor for over a decade when he was cast as Orlok, and he continued to appear on the German stage and screen until he died of a heart attack in 1936. The myth, however, makes for a much more entertaining story. (It didn't help Schreck himself was an eccentric, solitary man who delighted in being scary.)
    • In 1922, shooting outdoors at night simply wasn't possible with the film stocks and cameras available, and in fact all of the night scenes in the actual Nosferatu were obviously shot day-for-night for this reason. However, it serves the "Max Schreck was a vampire" narrative better to pretend these scenes were shot at night.
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    • Sergei Eisenstein is cited as a great director. Nosferatu was filmed two years before Eisenstein directed his first movie.
  • Bad "Bad Acting":
    • Schreck is hyped up as an insanely dedicated method actor who toured with a prestigious company. However, his actual performance is stilted line readings, dialog screwups and looking at the camera. Of course, it makes sense because he isn't really an actor and was cast for the overwhelming creepiness and legitimacy he brought to the role.
    • Gustav von Wangenheim, the actor cast as the hero Thomas Hutter, can't even fake a yawn without looking hilariously over the top.
  • Bald of Evil: The baldness really does reinforce Max's creepiness.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Max Schreck is portrayed as an actual vampire, so he's really not acting as Count Orlok.
  • Breaking and Bloodsucking: Played with. Schreck doesn't attack Greta in her room, it's a movie set, the bedroom from the climax of Nosferatu. Per the arrangement with Murnau, Schreck only receives his payment for playing "himself" in the movie in the scene were Orlok feeds on Ellen.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Murnau constantly yells at Schreck for killing his crew.
  • Cast the Expert: invoked Satirized. Murnau decides there's no better person to play a vampire than a real one. This ends up causing havok for his production of Nosferatu when Max Shreck keeps killing other members of the crew.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Murnau.
  • Continuity Nod: The famous scene of Orlok's projected hand's shadow is reproduced several times.
  • Control Freak: Murnau, full on. However, things eventually get way out of his control.
  • Deal with the Devil: Murnau promises Schreck a meal of the leading lady in return for his performance.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Everyone involved with filmmaking will recognize the film as one big metaphor for film production itself. Roger Ebert noticed this in his review:
    Roger Ebert: Schreck muses aloud, "I do not think we need . . . the writer . . ." Scenes like this work as inside comedy, but they also have a practical side: The star is hungry, and because he is the star, he can make demands. This would not be the first time a star has eaten a writer alive.
  • Doing It for the Art: Murnau's excuse In-Universe, though he uses the words For Science!.
  • Enforced Method Acting: The end result of having to work with an actual bloodsucker In-Universe. Murnau even lampshades it:
    "They don't need to act. They need to be"
    • "Consider this a sacrifice for your art"
      • The two crew members' reaction to Max plucking a bat out of the air and greedily eating it is: "What an actor!"
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first appearance of Schreck. Few vampires have ever made a more frightening entrance - and it's exactly the same as it was in the actual Nosferatu.
  • Fatal Method Acting: Schreck is a real vampire In-Universe, thus disintegrates when his character is killed via sunlight.
    • Happens to several members of the cast and production crew.
  • The Fog of Ages: Max Schreck, the vampire actor, suffers from this; most of the memories of his early life and his sire have faded, and throughout the film he claims to have forgotten killing members of the film crew less than a few hours after doing so. However, it's implied that Schreck isn't a "complete" vampire, given that he has continued aging despite being immortal, and that he was never capable of siring vampires of his own.
  • For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: "For this horror movie, I shall be playing a vampire."
  • Foreshadowing:
    Murnau: Why would you possibly want to be in a play when you could be in a film?
    Greta: A theatrical audience gives me life. This... thing only takes it from me.
  • Gratuitous German:
    • Herr Doktor, Herr Doktor, Herr Doktor, Ja...
    • Eddie Izzard as Gustav. He basically uses the same German accent he uses for his stand up routine about the Heimmlich Manoeuvre.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Well, to begin with, Max Shreck probably wasn't a vampire...
    • He was noted as being rather solitary by his contemporaries, but he certainly wasn't implicated in anything such as murder or bloodsucking.
    • F. W. Murnau's perfectionist tendencies are also played up for the film. While it's true that he, like other directors of German Expressionism, had strict control over his set, he certainly didn't allow his crew to be murdered in order to create a film masterpiece.
  • Large Ham: Murnau. "Death of centuries! Moonchaser! Blasphemer! Monkey! Vase of prehistory. Finally to Earth, and finally born."
  • Looks Like Orlok: Max actually plays Orlok.
  • Mad Artist: Murnau, Murnau, Murnau...
  • Making the Masterpiece: A rather fictional example of this type of story.
  • Meaningful Name: A rare Real Life example: Schreck is German for "fright". The real Max Schreck delighted in this coincidence.
  • Monster Sob Story: Schreck.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: Greta.
    "Stupid cat!"
  • Not So Different:
    • One of the themes of the film is that film is a vampire of its own. The celluloid of film itself is destroyed by sunlight — just like a vampire. When Shrek dies, the film melts.
      Greta: A theatrical audiences gives me life, while this... thing (indicates movie camera) takes it from me.
    • Invoked verbatim, by Shreck, telling Murnau, "You and I... are not so different."
  • Oh, Crap!: Greta during the climactic scene, when she happens to look in a mirror and sees Max is not reflected in the mirror.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They don't reflect in mirrors, but since they cast shadows, they can be caught on film.
    • Schreck comments that he cannot make other vampires (whether he is physically limited himself or just doesn't know how to is unclear), drinks alcohol on more than one occasion (and gets drunk by it), can feed on animals, and while he refuses to board a ship he manages to reach an island by plane (thus passing over moving water).
  • Pretty in Mink: Greta first shows up in a fur-trimmed coat.
  • The Prima Donna: Greta is introduced as one at first, but quickly gets surpassed by Murnau himself.
  • Sanity Slippage: Murnau. In the end, he's so consumed by his vision for the film that after Schreck kills Fritz and Grau, he actually offers direction to Grau's lifeless body.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Let's just say this film plays very loosely with the facts.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Murnau, after Schreck kills cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner, and producer Albin Grau. He expresses his cracked sanity as he orders Schreck to be killed via sunlight.
  • Warm Bloodbags Are Everywhere: Murnau has to keep his cast and crew from falling prey to Schreck's fangs.
  • Wham Line: "There is no Max Shreck."
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Schreck reads the book Dracula in order to study for his role, and is saddened by the scene where Dracula leaves a meal for Jonathan Harker, and remembers when he used to have servants to do such tasks for him, which reminds him of when he had a wife, family, estates, etc., and now he's just a lonely scavenger squatting in a ruined castle.
    Max Schreck: He has to feed him, when he himself hasn't eaten food in centuries. Can he even remember how to buy bread? How to select cheese and wine? And then he remembers the rest of it. How to prepare a meal, how to make a bed. He remembers his first glory, his armies, his retainers, and what he is reduced to. The loneliest part of the book comes when the man accidentally sees Dracula setting his table.
  • Writers Suck: After Schreck kills the cinematographer, he quips "I don't think we need the writer..."


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