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100th Anniversary of Nosferatu

It’s one of the strange quirks of cinema history, that there was nearly no Nosferatu at all. The vision of the pale, wraith-like creature climbing the stairs is iconic. It’s been parodied and replicated countless times. The image of Nosferatu is one people will probably recognise when seen even if they don’t immediately know what you mean.

This year is the 100th anniversary of its release, notwithstanding that due to a lawsuit from the widow of Bram Stoker, all copies of it were scheduled to be destroyed. A stake through the heart of horror fans everywhere!

The film was made by Prana Film on a low budget as a retelling of Dracula for German audiences. It was directed by F.W. Murnau who was a veteran of WW1. Of the twenty-one films Murnau directed only twelve survive to the present day. Nosferatu is the most famous and tapped into the publics love of the modern vampire story. It centres around Count Orlok, a vampire preying on the wife of his estate agent. It premiered in the Berlin Zoological Garden in 1922.

The filmmakers thought a loosely told adaption of Dracula would be too obscure to clamp down on, but they were wrong. Bram Stokers estate successfully sued the filmmakers, and all copies of the movie were ordered to be destroyed. Luckily, like a cloud of bats across the sea, some copies bound for America managed to survive.

This was at a time when many films were lost due to unintentional accidents, so the odds would not have been in the films favour to survive the purge. The lawsuit by Bram Stokers estate also seems cynical considering the folklore origins of the vampire. While Stoker’s Dracula is one of the great portrayals of the vampire, very little about the count, including his aristocratic pose, was unique to Stoker’s book. It may have really come down to the film originally sharing the name Dracula.

Nosferatu was a film recalled due to copyright reasons. But its legacy lived on. Although it did not officially enter the public domain until 2019, it has been the subject of four remakes. There are films like “Shadow Of The vampire” which are fictionalised retellings of the making of the iconic film. It was even used in an episode of 90s nickelodeon favourite, “Are You Afraid Of The Dark”.

Overall, the face of Count Orlok is more famous than Count Dracula’s. The corpse-white ghoul was played by Max Shrek, who’s name literally translates to “Maximum Terror” in English. His intimidating presence leaves a long shadow as does the film itself.

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