Filming the filming of Nosferatu Dark Shadows
Elias Merhige on Shadow of the Vampire

We meet the director of Shadow of the Vampire, the forthcoming fantasy biopic of Horror legend FW Murnau

A Shivers interview by Alan Jones
selected from Shivers #69

It is one of the most famous Horror films of all time. And now, the making of director FW Murnau’s 1921 silent masterpiece Nosferatu is being used as the backdrop for a new Fantasy movie exploring the terror of creativity. Shadow of the Vampire tells the story of how the homosexual Murnau plagiarized Bram Stoker’s Dracula to craft the archetypal undead myth.

But Shadow of the Vampire is much more than a lesson about the early days of German expressionism or the Gods and Monsters in Murnau’s life. What director Elias Merhige’s deconstruction does is throw a few ‘What ifs’ into the sinister scenario. What if Schreck was a real vampire and Murnau sought him out solely for that reason to give absolute truth to his work? And what if Schreck couldn’t keep his blood-drinking in check and started draining the other cast members, becoming the focus of police attention?

Elias Merhige explained, “Shadow of the Vampire is not an homage to Murnau or silent cinema. It’s not even totally accurate to history. I’m using Murnau as a way of communicating what the idea of creative genius has become in the 20th century. Our creativity has become so ferocious and so beyond our comprehension that we are terrorising ourselves with it... I wanted to explore the vampiric nature of the cinematic medium."

Shadow of the Vampire happened because of actress Patricia Arquette. Merhige continued, “She gave her husband, Nicolas Cage, the video of Begotten (Merhige’s first movie, a 1991 slice of avant-garde Horror which has only ever played on the late night cult circuit in America and never been released in Europe) for his birthday. Nic is a big fan of silent cinema and black-and-white movies.

"He watched Begotten, fell in love with its originality, found out I was living in Los Angeles and asked to meet me. He’d just started this production company a few months before [with Jeff Levine, called Saturn Films] and figured if I was halfway sane, there might be something they’d like me to work on.”

"Nic politely asked me to read the Shadow of the Vampire script written by Steven Katz. I read it and became completely besotted because, by deconstructing the making of Nosferatu, it created a new mythology around the idea of creating images. It was also about an art form in its infancy in a Germany soon to face a dramatic loss of innocence. Irresistible."

Shooting started on Shadow of the Vampire on April 8 in Luxembourg, whose tax breaks allowed the $6 million budget to stretch another $2 million. Starring in the film are John Malkovich as Murnau, Willem Dafoe as Schreck, Udo Kier as Grau, John Gillett as Galeen, Catherine McCormack as Greta and Eddie Izzard as Gustav.

Merhige said, “I was immediately impressed that the script had attracted the attention of someone like John Malkovich. I was nervous the first time I met him and Willem. I was convinced they’d look at me and say ‘You’re not a proper director, get out of here!’ But meeting them both was like meeting old friends and they responded to the script brilliantly. I wanted to get John pregnant with the Murnau I wanted to put on screen and by the time he arrived on the set he had a hundred other thoughts and inspirations.”

Read the full interview, and our special features on more modern vampires, in
Shivers #69

To order this issue of Shivers or subscribe, click here