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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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