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Count Orlock gets a crazy idea

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Nosferatu Special Edition from Image Entertainment
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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 historical resonance.

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" in Europe.

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

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