Shadow of the Vampire is set in the year 1921, a time when the German director E.W. Murnau along with cast and film crew, head to Czechoslovakia for their shooting of Nosferatu. Amidst all the preparation, the crew and rest of the cast have no clear idea who will be playing the part of the vampire Count Orlok. According to Gustave von Wangenheim, one of the main actors, Count Orlok will be portrayed by a character actor named Max Schreck.
After shooting some scenes, the team proceed to an inn to shoot more scenes. The landlady of the inn becomes disturbed when the director starts detaching the crucifixes from the walls. At the same time, strange things start happening with some of the crew and inside the inn.
When the film crew star shooting at an old Slovak castle, they have the opportunity to see the actor Schreck for the first time. They are fascinated with the man though they also have some doubts. After the shoot, they find one of the crew lying unconscious in a dark tunnel beneath the castle. The team bring back the man to the inn and when the landlady sees him, the word Nosferatu escapes from her mouth as she holds dearly onto a rosary.
A dinner scene causes an accident that cuts Gustav’s finger. At the sight of blood, Schreck immediately sucks the blood from the cut on Gustav’s finger. The power goes out momentarily and when the lights turn on again, Schreck is already sucking the blood from one of the film crew. The rest of them immediately leave the premises of the castle while Schreck remains inside.
Unbeknownst to the crew, Schreck is a vampire who has come into agreement with Murnau. In exchange for Greta, Schreck will act as a real vampire, just like what Murnau wants. Meanwhile, some of the crew try to interview Schreck. His unusual behavior makes them think that he is greatly immersed in his character.
As the filming comes to a conclusion, Murnau unveils Schreck’s true identity to his crew. The crew realize the danger they are in and they proceed with filming their last scenes. Greta freaks out when she sees that Schreck has no reflection in the mirror. To subdue her, Murnau and his crew sedates her and gives her to Schreck. Schreck starts feeding on Greta but he is also affected by the drugs in her blood. As the vampire lies unconscious, the film crew tries to kill him by opening the door to let the sunlight in. However, they fail as Schreck has already anticipated this move. Schreck then murders the film crew while Murnau struggles on catching everything that is happening on camera. The movie ends with the rest of the crew arriving and opening the door while Murnau keeps on shooting until the moment that Schreck burns completely because of the sunlight.