|By AL J. Vermette
When Blood Moon Rising was launched in June of 2000, the very first Creature Feature that I wrote for
that debut issue was Nosferatu. Since this is our 20th-year issue and I am a better writer than I was 20
years ago (at least I hope so), I wanted to revisit my very first Creature Feature monster and do it better
and give it the justice it deserves.
In the height of the silent era, one horror movie stands alone. It was not the first fright film nor was it the
last of this age, but it stands out on two accounts. This was the very first film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s
Dracula ever produced and that after nearly 100 years, it still is regarded as the one of….if not the best
vampire movie ever made.
Released on March 4th, 1922 in its native Germany, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror as was its full
title was right out of the gate a masterpiece in cinema filmmaking. Directed by F.W. Murnau and shot in
the style of German expressionism, a popular form of filmmaking at the time. The story was that of Dracula
written by author Bram Stoker who’s 1897 novel set the stage for the film's tale. It was the first time Stoker’
s novel Dracula would be put to film, although sadly Stoker himself didn’t live to see it as he died ten years
before the movie went into production.
As the story goes, when director F.W. Murnau wanted to obtain the rights to Stoker’s novel for his
planned vampire film, reportedly Stoker's wife refused to grant the rights. That or Murnau never tried to
obtain the rights and just made the film anyway and just changed the names of the main cast to hide its
understandable rip-off. However when Stoker’s widow found out about the movie, she took the case to
court and filed a lawsuit.
As a result of her win in court, all copies of Nosferatu were to be pulled from theaters and destroyed.
However some copies managed to survive and fortunately for horror fans, film historians and vampire
lovers, Nosferatu has become a celebrated achievement in filmmaking. One can only speculate on how
Bram Stoker himself would have viewed his novel’s first attempt at film and would he have given the
production his blessing.
Despite the film's copyright infringement backlash, Nosferatu would gain a following and is among the
best, if not the best considered vampire film ever made. Even in the modern world of practical and CGI
effects, the simple and yet striking imagery of Nosferatu still holds up as a testament to the movie's
artistry. Relying more on mood, setting, and use of shadows made this masterpiece stand out. In one
particular and very memorable scene, the vampire's hand seen only in shadow creeping up the female
As his shadowy long fingers trace up her dress, she reacts to it as though his touch is truly affecting her
until his handclasp closed and she winces in pain as his shadow hand clutches her heart. This easy and
yet highly effective scene shows that even with the simplest of special effects master filmmaking can truly
make an impact. Another brilliant scene is that of Count Orlok (AKA) Dracula when onboard the ship The
Demeter. The vampire rises from his coffin much to the horror of the ships First Mate who screams in
terror and throws himself from the ship into the open sea to escape the monster.
What makes this scene of the vampire rising from his box so amazing is that Orlok does not simply sit
up and then bend his knees to rise to a standing position, but rather floats in one single move. It’s an
outstanding effect for not just an audience of the 1920’s, but it’s one that has been emulated by today’s
cinema as in the films Fright Night and Dark Shadows. It’s the movie's standout shot and maybe its most
Because of the production of the movie being made without the blessing of its copyright, the role of
Count Dracula like all of the film’s cast was changed to that of Count Orlok. The look of the creature was
nothing less than super creepy with a bald head, pointed ears, long sharp finger claws and most of all…
his rat like teeth. Looking human and yet somehow inhuman, the film's creature is an image that still
haunts us today nearly 100 years later. It’s also an image design that would live on in later incarnations
like being the base model for Mr. Barlow in the 1979 movie Salem’s Lot as well as the remake of
Nosferatu also 1979. This disturbing creature design was also reimagined again for (The Master) the
vampire lord in season one of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and also in the TV series Kindred The Embraced
for the look of the Nosferatu clan.
For 1922 classic, the role of the vampire was played by actor Max Schreck whose name in German
actually and ironically means terror. Schreck’s thin 6 foot 3 frame was suited ideally for the part of the
vampire as he made the creature's movements slow and very articulate. Since this was a silent film, his
voice was obsolete so his very gestures told through action conveyed his frightening intent. The result was
nothing less than amazingly sinister in every eerie movement. Although Max Schreck was in more than 30
films, he is most remembered……at least here in the States for his role as Count Orlok in Nosferatu.
In 2000 when this magazine was merely six months old, the movie Shadow of The Vampire was
released (one of our first reviews) about the making of the Nosferatu silent film. Part documentary, part
drama, the movie explored the idea that the actor Max Schreck playing Count Orlok was truly indeed a
living vampire that F.W. Murnau hired to play his movie creature. It was a very interesting take on the idea
of a movie within the movie that its star villain was really a monster playing a man playing a monster.
Although so iconic the name of the vampire in the 1922 film is Count Orlok, however, most identify the
creature as simply Nosferatu. And yet Count Orlok is for all intense and purposes Count Dracula with only
the name change due to the copyright issues with using the names from Stoker’s book. The name of the
vampire was then given his rightful name in the 1979 remake of Nosferatu where Count Orlok, played by
Klaus Kinski, was then given the name of Count Dracula after the copyright aged out and was no longer in
effect. Still being a remake of the 1922 film, the look of the star vampire was still much that of how Max
Schreck appeared with his shaved head, pointed ears, and most of all his forward-mounted rat fangs.
Despite the names of Dracula and Orlok and their being, in essence, the same character sharing the
same story by Stoker, they are however very much separated. Dracula has been Bela Lugosi,
Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, and John Carradine, suave non-threatening at least in first appearances
and well mannered. And then there’s Nosferatu/ Orlok, Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski, frightening and
opposing inhuman and nearly animal in their acceptance of the world. It’s the same character created by
author Bram Stoker and yet very distinctly different. Today this separation is understood and accepted as
the two may share the Stoker storyline but are very much two separate entities.
It was the very first vampire movie and the first to bring the Bram Stoker novel to the silver screen. Its
impact is one of great importance, for not only did the film bring us one of the scariest vampires of all time
and right out of the gate, but also Nosferatu brings us the notion that vampires could be killed upon
sunrise, a first in the genre as even the title vampire in Stoker's book could freely move about in the
sunlight or through somewhat weakened.
So that’s my revisiting Creature Feature of Nosferatu 20 years after the first time I wrote about him in
Issue #1 of Blood Moon Rising released on June 25th, 2000. Maybe I’ll have to revisit my favorite vampire
incarnation in 2040 for BMRs 40th Anniversary issue.
|BMR Magazine Cover Flashbacks