(GERMANY OUT) Silent movie ‘Nosferatu’, directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Max Schreck starring as Nosferatu, Germany 1921 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Yes, it is true that Count Orlok (also known as “Nosferatu”) was once a human. Yet, it’s been so long that even the Count himself doesn’t seem to remember his mortal past. He can walk and talk like one of us – or, well, at least enough to fool unwary folk – but it’s clear that he’s gone far beyond the bounds of humanity.
Nosferatu first appeared in the 1922 German Expressionist film of the same name. Don’t like the fact that it’s a silent film deter you, though. Even 95 years later, Nosferatu delivers a shocking, thrilling sense of unease.
The basic plot involves a young Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) as he travels to Transylvania to visit a client, Count Orlok (Max Schreck). Orlock reveals himself and proceeds to act like an obvious vampire, creeping around his own castle and thirsting for blood. Eventually, Orlock makes his way back to Germany and kills many people in Hutter’s hometown. His young wife, Ellen, finally defeats the monster by sacrificing herself. As Orlok feeds on her, the sun rises. Caught in its rays, he fades away into nothingness.
If all of that sounds familiar, then you may be relieved to know that the same thing occurred to Florence Stoker, widow of Bram Stoker. She sued the studio for copyright infringement, as the film obviously takes its cues from Bram Stoker’s famous novel, Dracula. The studio went bankrupt and the vast majority of the film prints of Nosferatu were burned.
Luckily, a few survived. Thanks to an early underground of film fans, we still have the chilling image of Orlok as Nosferatu. He’s unlike any vampire you’ve seen in modern cinema. Instead of a suave Brad Pitt or Bela Lugosi type, Orlok is plainly hideous. With his pointed ears, protruding teeth, and long, sharp nails, he looks more like a rat. Yet, instead of inspiring laughter, his appearance – with long takes and heavy use of shadows – instills a primal fear in your heart.