December 28th, 1888.
On this day, 124 years ago, F.W. Murnau was born in Bielefeld, Germany. If you’re not entirely familiar with his name, he directed Nosferatu, an iconic (and unauthorized) adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. He would later to go on to direct films for Fox after moving to Hollywood, though none of those resonate as much in today’s culture.
Of course, Nosferatu would be a tough act to follow for anyone. Changing the names (and a few plot points) from “Dracula”, it introduced us to Max Schreck’s indelible performance as Count Orlok, aka Nosferatu. The film was of course silent, so the onus was on Murnau and Schreck to create a villain that would not only be visually striking, but sympathetic as well. Of course, they succeeded. Nosferatu is one of the most famous vampire designs ever and, for my money, it’s a much more interesting take on the creature than what would become the standard modus operandi of just slapping some fangs on an actor and powdering down his face with foundation. It’s also worth noting that Nosferatu depicted sunlight as being lethal to vampires, while in the book “Dracula” the sun merely weakens them. I’m not entirely sure if this is the first instance of that revisionist biology or if Murnau lifted it from elsewhere, but it’s regarded as the first time this type of demise was depicted on film. Needless to say this helped cement the role sunlight would play in subsequent vampire lore.
In 1979 Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) directed a remake of the film called Nosferatu The Vampire that used the character names from “Dracula” but adhered more closely to Murnau’s plot beats and creature design. In 2000 Shadow Of The Vampire depicted a heavily fictionalized (ie Schreck is actually a vampire) account of Nosferatu‘s filming with John Malkovich playing Murnau and Willem Dafoe portraying Schreck. It’s kind of like The Girl but willfully dumb instead of unintentionally so.