Shadow of the Vampire

We look at the modern take on an old, old tale that has divided Horror fans...

Willm Dafoe as Schreck and Elias Merhige on set

Part 1 • Part 2 here

A Shivers feature by Alan Jones

Selected from Shivers #86

As readers of Shivers will doubtless know by now, the new film Shadow of the Vampire deals with the making of FW Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu, starring John Malkovitch as the acclaimed German director. Made over a six week period in Luxembourg, Shadow of the Vampire hinges on the conceit that Murnau cast a real vampire when he chose actor Max Schreck to play the lead character Count Orlok in his bootleg version of Dracula. Director Elias Merhige’s has turned this idea into a fantasia on the theme of Nosferatu, exploring with grace and black humour the relationship between a director, his cast and their film.

Although the film is not a lesson about German expressionism, it does nevertheless represent many of the people in the Nosferatu saga like producer and designer Albin Grau, writer Henrik Galeen and co-stars Greta Schroeder and Gustav von Wangenheim. “Shadow of the Vampire is not strictly accurate to history" says Merhige. "I am using Murnau as a way of communicating what the idea of creative genius has become in the 20th Century.” The Lebanese-born Merhige used his medical school enrolment fees to make the 1991 avant-garde Horror Begotten about God killing himself, Mother Earth taking his seed and their resulting offspring being abused by the denizens of a new technocracy. Grainy and stark Begotten is a once seen, never forgotten experience.

Actress Patricia Arquette bought a video of Begotten as birthday present for her Oscar-winning husband Nicolas Cage three years ago. Merhige continues “Nic is a big fan of silent cinema and black-and-white movies. He watched Begotten, fell in love with it, found out I was living in Los Angeles and asked to meet me. He’d just started this production company a few months before and figured if I was halfway sane, there might be something they’d like me to work on.”

Enter Cage with the idea of meeting Elias Merhige to see if the Shadow of the Vampire script (recently purchased by Cage's new company) was something he would be keen to tackle. Since Begotten, Merhige had forged a commercials and rock video career based on that unique offering – Marilyn Manson’s ‘Anti-Christ Superstar’ being just one of the latter – and he also found himself in and out of development deals with the usual Hollywood suspects.

Merhige remarked, “Sure, I could have made a film before Shadow of the Vampire but I’m a bit worried about dealing with a medium that commits an idea to eternity. There’s a responsibility when you create something that’s going to outlive you. I couldn’t bear anything I did to be less than great.” He continued, “I’ve always loved the idea of there being total order inside the lights, but beyond the camera there is total chaos. The script explored that and I felt there was something important to say about image-making and the early practitioners of the art...”

For John Malkovich' thoughts, go here.
More from this feature - including Cary Elwes, Eddie Izzard and producer Jeff Levine - in this issue. Plus - read the real story behind the making of the original Nosferatu!

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Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction