Bram Stoker’s widow refused the German silent film director F.W Murnau the rights to Dracula. He made the film anyway, relocating the action from London to Germany and changing the characters’ names – the vampire became Count Orlok.
Murnau called his 1922 film Nosferatu; a term used in Stoker’s novel and commonly supposed to be a Romanian word for vampire.
When Stoker’s widow successfully sued the studio for copyright infringement, the film prints were destroyed. Happily one survived. It was illegally copied and distributed, preserving the masterpiece.
Dracula has a labyrinthine plot. Murnau simplified it, keeping 2 episodes from the novel in the first half of his film.
The film opens with Thomas Hutter’s (originally Jonathan Harker’s) spooky journey to Orlock’s castle to deliver deeds of a house in his home town. When he cuts his thumb at dinner, the equally spooky Count Orlok attempts to suck blood from the wound. Next morning Hutter wakes with puncture marks in his neck. Later he finds Orlok asleep in his coffin. He injures himself trying to escape by climbing out of a window.
Again, copying Stoker, Orlok arrives on a ship where he has murdered and exsanguinated the crew. In the dead of night, Orlok carries his coffin to his new residence – opposite Hutter’s house. The doctors assume the ship is carrying plague, and a number of sudden deaths in the town appear to confirm the theory.
Orlok becomes fascinated by Hutter’s wife. In turn, she is haunted by dreams of the events that befell her husband in Orlok’s castle. Disturbed, she reads an old book on vampires and discovers the only way to kill one is for a pure-hearted woman to keep the monster distracted until sunrise, by sacrificing herself to his bloodlust. And this is what happens.
Orlok is still drinking her blood at cockcrow when the rising sun burns him up. As the wife dies in the arms of her grief stricken husband, the final scene shows Orlok’s castle in ruins.
‘The Shadow of the Vampire’ is a rather brilliant modern telling of Murnau making Noseratu. Except Count Orlok is the real deal; a vampire to whom Murnau promised the leading lady as his fee.
In the original, despite looking uncannily like someone undead, Orlok was played by a well-known character actor Max Schreck – no relation to Shrek or even Princess Fiona.
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