Nosferatu the Vampyre vs Dracula
One of the first vampires to ever appear on a movie screen was Count Orlok, played by Max Schreck in 1922. Nosferatu, a shortened version of Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, was a German expressionist film that is now considered one of the most important early horror movies. It was directed by F. W. Murnau.
The plot is as follows: Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is at the last moment sent by his slightly deranged employer to Transylvania where he will conduct business with the mysterious Count Orlok. Hutter leaves his wife, Ellen (Greta Schroeder), and journeys to the mysterious land. Along the way, the Transylvanian peasants warn him against meeting the count. Hutter ignores them but is horrified the moment he is met by a mysterious, rat-like figure.
The count displays increasing bizarre behavior – at one point even trying to suck Hutter’s blood after the latter accidentally cuts himself. Hutter eventually discovers Orlok’s body in a coffin and realizes his host must be a vampire.
At home, Ellen begins to suffer from an unknown influence and begins sleepwalking. The count soon arrives and begins terrorizing the town. And Ellen, with the guidance of Professor Bulwer (John Gottowt) must find a way to free themselves from the shadow of the vampire.
Sound familiar? That’s because this is in fact the first movie adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Most people consider Nosferatu a separate vampire entity, largely because the character names are entirely different (Hutter instead of Harker; Ellen instead of Mina; Orlok instead of Dracula; Bulwer instead of Van Helsing). The names were changed partly because this is a German production and partly because the studio made the ever so slight mistake of not getting permission from Florence Balcombe Stoker, Bram Stoker’s widow, to produce this story. Dracula the novel was published in 1897; therefore, by 1922 it was still very much in copyright. This blunder ended up costing the studio its life, in that after the Stoker estate won the lawsuit, the Prana Film company was forced into bankruptcy and never produced any other movies.
Nosferatu itself was almost lost because the settlement called for the destruction of all film prints of Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. The film has survived to this day only because one copy had already been distributed to cinemas outside of Germany and managed to be saved.
Thank goodness too, because this film undoubtedly had an influence on the 1931 film version of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. The structure of Nosferatu and the way it cut the story down is almost identical to Universal’s Dracula. Neither film is a very clean adaptation of the novel (although the Lugosi version as least comes closer to keeping the names straight!); but both are examples of horror cinema at its finest.
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror was remade in 1979 and released under the title Nosferatu the Vampyre. This basically is a sound revamp (pardon the pun!) of Murnau’s film and is particularly to be commended for retaining almost exactly Count Orlok’s creepy rat look – in this film he is played by Klaus Kinski.
Nosferatu the Vampyre was directed by Werner Herzog, and stars Isabelle Adjani as Lucy Harker and Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Harker. Notice they made an effort to correct the characters’ names – although Adjani’s character should in fact be Mina!
The comics among you may also be interested in the 2000 movie Shadow of the Vampire. This is a fictional account of the filming of the 1922 Nosferatu which comically presents the thought that Max Schreck (played by Willem Dafoe) may indeed have been a real vampire. John Malkovich also stars as F. W. Murnau.
The word “nosferatu” does in fact appear in Stoker’s Dracula. In the context it is used in, it is meant to mean “undead” or to simply be a Romanian word for “vampire”. However, Bram Stoker made a slight mistake: the word “nosferatu” kind of doesn’t exist. There is, however, a similar Romanian word: “necuratu” is a word used to signify an unclean spirit. This is probably what Stoker was after.