Nosferatu: The Vampire (1922)
Dracula. A name that conjures mixed images of fear, lust and dread throughout the world. The character, created by Bram Stoker in 1897 and based on the historical figure of Vlad Tepes (or Vlad the Impaler) has survived the ravages of time as only the lord of vampires can and this first film vision of the tale has survived despite the odds against it. Rather than recount the tale as any Satanist worth his salt already knows the story, I’ll give a brief history of the film and a few tidbits on the story from Murnau’s vision.
When F.W. Murnau first got the idea to make a film adaptation of Dracula, Stoker’s widow refused him the rights. Whether this was because she wanted to milk more money from Murnau or because she didn’t want the film to be made is unclear. Undeterred, Murnau changed the names of the characters, made a few plot changes and went ahead with the movie anyway. Obvious to all but the most obtuse viewer, Nosferatu is the Dracula story, and Mrs. Stoker wasn’t amused. She sued and had an order issued that all copies of the film were to be destroyed. Obviously, since I’m writing this review, copies have survived.
Murnau’s telling of the tale centers around one of the most interesting takes on Dracula ever to hit film. Count Orlock, played with perfection by Max Shreck, is a deformed, bald creature with two protruding rat-like teeth, long pointed ears and claws on his hands. Yet, despite his frightening appearance, Orlock still seduces the helpless Mina using his powers. It makes for a more eerie visual than the dapper versions of the Count that modern filmgoers are used to. The image of Orlock’s hideous shadow creeping up the stairwell will forever be what I think of when I think of a vampire.
Murnau made some wonderful changes to the tale, some of which changed the vampire mythos to this day. An interesting change which should be immediately noticeable to modern viewers of the oft-told tale is Murnau’s decision to remove all Christian symbolism from the movie. You’ll not see the Vampire fleeing from the crosses of Dr. Van Helsing (Bulwer in this version). In fact, Murnau has turned Van Helsing, who was a major player in Stoker’s story, into a footnote in Nosferatu. And, Orlock meets his doom, not at the end of a stake, but because he feeds too long and is struck down by the dawn’s first light. I might also be nice to point out that this is the first time in history that this now-canon way of destroying a vampire was ever used. Stoker’s Dracula, while weakened by sunlight, was able to travel by day fairly easily.
In the end, this movie stands the test of time, whether you’re a fan of the silent era or not. There are countless DVD versions available for the interested collector. One note I’ll make for those seeking to enjoy this film for the first time is for you to find a version that’s in its original color, rather than black and white. Murnau used a blue tint for night and a sepia tone for day. Otherwise, it seems as if Orlock is parading around in full daylight in parts of the movie and the ending may not seem as clear. And get one with a musical score than you enjoy. Some of the more modern versions use a gothic sound, but the purist in me prefers the obviously scratchy recordings as a backdrop. Whatever your preference, grab this movie, turn down the lights and prepare to be chilled.
[- Warlock West]