Shadow of the Vampire is about the making of the classic silent film, Nosferatu, in Germany in 1922. Or rather, itís about the people who made it.Director E. Elias Merhige and screenwriter Steven Katz postulate that actor Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) made such a convincing Nosferatu, because he was really a vampire. Itís a marvellous conceit for a film, and Dafoe (unrecognisable thanks to the extraordinary makeup of Ann Buchanan and Katja Reinert) has enormous fun as Schreck. He bites the head off a bat, and canít help draining the blood of the filmís cinematographer. John Malkovich plays the obsessive director, F.W. Murnau. When heís refused the rights to Bram Stokerís story, he changes the names in his scenario and proceeds regardless. He brings live animals and bottles of blood for Schreck to feed on, and promises him leading lady Greta Schroeder (Catherine McCormack) once filming has concluded.
Shadow of the Vampire is frequently funny for much of its short length, in keeping with the wild premise. Merhige has a lot of fun recreating an early movie set, and Eddie Izzard is wonderful as silent movie star and leading man, Gustav von Wangenheim. But the film turns nasty once the idea runs out of steam, and Katz and Merhige struggle with the ending. Their fanciful idea (and it was fanciful - Schreck continued acting into the 1930s and was never typecast as a vampire) is spoilt by taking it to serious extremes.Gods and Monsters (also about the director of a seminal horror film) was so moving because it weaved its story around the known facts of James Whaleís life. It could have happened. The same cannot be said for Shadow of the Vampire, which is only fun while itís not taking itself too seriously.