SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE
About The Production
As screenwriter Steven Katz recalls, "About ten or eleven
years ago I became very interested in NOSFERATU. I especially liked the fact
that the film looks incredibly realistic -- to the point that you
almost think you are watching an old documentary about a vampire. I then got the
idea of what would happen if the actor who played the vampire in the film was
really a vampire. As it happens, Schreck is the German word for shriek or fright
-- it seemed a little too pat. I started to do some research on Murnau
and I saw this amazing picture of him filming -- all his crew were
wearing lab coats and goggles. From that I got the idea of Murnau really
treating the whole thing as a documentary, as a scientific project." When
the screenplay was complete, Katz's agent gave a copy to Nicolas Cage whom he
knew very knowledgeable about silent cinema and a big fan of Max Schreck.
Says Cage, "I've always been fascinated by vampires and
loved the metaphor of the vampire as method actor. I've played a vampire once
before in VAMPIRE'S KISS and loved the experience." Cage had already been
trying to find a project with which to collaborate with film director E. Elias
Merhige. He recalls, "I'd seen Elias' first feature, BEGOTTEN, and found it
completely compelling. From the time I saw it I wanted to find a way of working
with him. When I read Steven Katz's script, I saw it as the perfect vehicle for
these talents. John and Willem had never worked together before, and I knew they
would have great chemistry. So this film allowed me to team up two of my
favorite actors and put them into the hands of a pure artist."
Ever since NOSFERATU, vampires have been a staple in popular
culture. Says Katz, "I think vampires are the myth that has grown up in
Hollywood more than any other. Vampires are pretty useful because you can change
them and change what they mean for every decade. They were originally a metaphor
for contagious disease. The depictions of them in the middle ages were of men
and women in raggedy clothes and burial shrouds. In the early 19th century, when
syphilis became epidemic, they began to be depicted as seductive. I think that
in Stoker's Dracula there are a lot of indications that it's about syphilis and
the sexual transmission of disease. There is also a certain degree of xenophobia
-- this whole idea of a vampire coming from a foreign country into
England, infecting the women and killing everybody. So, throughout the ages
there's been an ability for people to metaphorically reinterpret vampires in
terms of their own needs."
Katz wrote the film with Willem Dafoe in mind as Schreck. Says
Katz, "He just had this quality -- a mixture of the incredibly frightening
and threatening with an erotic charge too that I thought was perfect for the
part. When we came around to making the movie, the producer, Jeff Levine, asked
me whom I wanted to play Schreck. I said Willem Dafoe immediately."
Everyone agreed that John Malkovich was perfect for the
all-important role of Murnau. Says Katz, "Malkovich looks surprisingly
like Murnau. He also gives an incredibly obsessive edge to his character,
which is really perfect for this film Murnau's obsessiveness is out there for
all the world to see. It's a pretty extraordinary thing."
For director Elias Merhige, the project was the perfect
follow-up to his first film, BEGOTTEN, an audaciously experimental film that
developed a wide cult following and was named one of the year's ten-best by
Time Magazine. Says Merhige, "What excited me abou
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