One of my all time favorite vampire movies, I found out recently, almost wasn’t shown due to a lawsuit brought on by the family of Bram Stoker – the man who brought us Count Dracula.
F.W. Murnau, who directed the 1922 silent masterpiece Nosferatu, knew he was playing with fire when he shot the unauthorized adaptation (the studio he worked for was not successful in obtaining the film rights). He tried his best to cover his tracks by changing the names of the iconic characters – “vampire” became Nosferatu; Count Dracula became Count Orlok; Jonathan Harker became Thomas Hutter and his love interest Lucy became Ellen. There are plot point differences I won’t disclose here as I don’t want to give away the ending, but Murnau tried to change it significantly to avoid legal troubles.
It didn’t work. The Stoker family sued and the courts sided with them. One of the orders that came down from the verdict was that all prints of the film were to be destroyed. Thankfully, some were salted away and eventually reprinted and shared around the world; otherwise, we would not have the joy of watching what many believe is an instrumental masterpiece of cinema today.
Werner Herzog, who remade the movie in 1979, called the original Nosferatu “Germany’s greatest film.” The Vatican even listed Nosferatu as one of 45 great films in its art category.
Murnau cast the perfect actor for Count Orlok – Max Schrek, whose name in German means “terror.” There were even rumors floating around at the time that Schrek played the part so well because he was truly a vampire! The 2000 Willem Dafoe movie Shadow of the Vampire explores this theory, with Dafoe as Schrek.
While the movie may not serve up the scares it did when it was first released (Sweden banned the movie from being shown until 1972 due to its “excessive horror”) it is still a horror (and silent film) classic, and should be watched by anyone who enjoys classic horror.