Directed by E Elias Merhige starring John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier and Catherine McCormack
Refused the rights to Dracula by the late Bram Stoker's estate, German director FW Murnau (Malkovich) finds a legal loophole by calling his film Nosferatu and the central character Count Orlock. With many of the interior scenes already shot in Berlin, Murnau, producer Albin Grau (Kier) and crew decamp to Czechoslovakia where they will be met by Max Schreck (Dafoe), the actor who has been cast in the lead role. Murnau tells his colleagues that Schreck has trained in Russia under Stanislavsky, and that the actor has been 'in character' for weeks, researching the role in a rural castle. But Schreck is every bit(e) as sinister as the scenes the crew are about to film - he's a real vampire.
Merhige's film is a reverential and absorbing twist on the making of a cinematic masterpiece, and while nowhere near as frightening as the original, it nevertheless guarantees that you'll never watch the source material in the same way again. Dafoe, who has made a career out of playing oddballs and outsiders, is deliciously hammy as the ultimate loner, a vampire guaranteed the neck of his co-star Greta Schroeder (McCormack) upon completion of production. As he picks off the crew one by one, Merhige blurs the boundaries of horror and humour - in one key scene Murnau completes a head count of who's left, only for Schreck to say: "I don't think we need the writer anymore" (a line doubtless to find favour with many directors).
Brilliantly cast, Malkovich plays the visionary Murnau as a laudanum-loving obsessive, a man who promises his underlings eternal life onscreen but sells their souls to Schreck in the process. His thirst, like that of Schreck's is all consuming, and by the claret-soaked finale you're not sure who to fear more. At 90 minutes, Merhige may have cheated his audience out of good 20 minutes of graveyard gags between an over-demanding star and off-the-rails director, but his film works as both a savage allegory on film making and a chilling rewrite of movie history. A dark sickly joy.