Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror
Screenplay by Henrik Galeen, after by the
novel Dracula by Bram Stoker.
Vampires, Dracula, and Murnau
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu
is perhaps the most frightening portrayal of the Bram Stoker
legend. The only film adaptation to come close is Werner Herzog's
1979 remake starring Klaus Kinski.
The 1992 remake, Bram Stoker's Dracula has
Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Gary Oldman, and Anthony Hopkins.
While a great film, it suffers from the over exposure of the
stars. Oldman is certainly a fine actor but he has played so many
bad guys that we have to wonder at times which one he's playing.
Bela Lugosi certainly made his mark as the distinguished
vampire in his 1932 film. But watching it today is an almost comical
experience. His handsome, dashing vampire seems at odds with
the character's pitiful past.
In the 1922 Murnau film we see a more pathetic
vampire. Max Schreck's Count Orlock is a more isolated and drawn
figure. Although he "lives" in the "Land of the
Phantoms" he is apparently alone in his ramshackle castle.
Contrast this to Lugosi's charismatic and charming ("Good
evening") party animal. Even the British Hammer films of
the 1950's and 1960's starring Christopher Lee showed a well-dressed
and classy vampire. This approach gives a nice bit of irony but
does not make for a very frightening character.
The 1932 Lugosi film is the first authorized
adaptation of the Stoker novel. Like the novel, Lugosi's vampire
has kinship and rapport with wolves and bats. Murnau and his
art director, Albin Grau gave us a more rodent-like vampire.
This has several effects. This makes him lowlier and at the same
time gives his character a
Murnau draws from a history that links Vampires
to unexplained deaths. The term, Nosferatu, is of modern origin
and derives from the Slavic "nosufur-atu" which is
a derivation of the Greek "nosophoros" or "plague
carrier." The understanding that rat-borne illnesses were
the cause of many plagues dominated scientific thinking in recent
centuries. While in earlier times many unexplained deaths fueled
a developing culture of Vampirism and the concept of the "un-dead"
While drawing on popular Vampire lore Murnau
and Albin Grau also relied heavily and without permission on Stoker's
novel. They apparently had no intention of paying any royalties
for their use of the novel as the basis for their screenplay.
They attempted to disguise the characters by changing their names
and geographical setting. The film premiered in 1922 but eventually,
Florence Stoker with the aid of the British Incorporated Society
of Authors succeeded in destroying the original negatives and
most of the prints of Nosferatu.
But Vampires have a knack for coming back
to life. Several prints surfaced after Florence Stoker's death.
Some were turned over to Universal, which by 1928 had acquired
film rights to the Dracula novel. Later a French version appeared
as well as an English print. Both of these had the character
names changed back to Stoker's.
In 1972 Blackhawk Films released the original
with Murnau's names restored as "Nosferatu the Vampire." Several
restorations have been done including the version screened at
the 1984 Berlin Film Festival. Film Preservation Associates released
another restoration on Laser Disk, DVD, and VHS in 1991. And
finally, in 2001, a stunning new restoration with enhanced titles
and a new score by Silent Orchestra was produced by Film Preservation
Associates and release by Image Entertainment.
Carlos Garza © 2000 Silent Orchestra