Friday, 21 September 2012

The Stories Behind "Nosferatu"

Nosferatu, a name every Horror fan is familiar with, but where did it all begin?

In 1921, director FW Murnau founded the company Prana-Film to produce a series of horror films. Inspired by both the developing artistic and commercial successes of post-war German cinema, much of which was influenced by Expressionism, and the harsh economic reality of spiralling inflation, Prana-Film was an attempt to grab the attention of the prestigious and lucrative export market.

In reality however, Prana-Film only produced one film, that film being "Nosferatu", before the company went bankrupt. Intended as a straightforward adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula", Murnau was denied the rights by Stoker's estate. Frustrated but unperturbed he went ahead with the film by changing details such as names and locations. Dracula became Count Orlok, Jonathan Harker became Hutter, and the vampire stalked Bremen rather than London.

Stoker's widow, Florence, sued. But by the time the case reached court Murnau's rampant spending on publicity for Nosferatu had bankrupt Prana-Film. Despite Murnau's inability to pay she continued the case, and in July 1925 a German Court ordered all prints of the film to be burnt. But one copy of the film had already been distributed around the world, these prints were duplicated over the years.

Miraculously some copies did survive and although she did prevent a London premiere in 1925, the film proved impossible to suppress and was released in the United States during 1929. But it was a bittersweet victory for Murnau. Although "Nosferatu" made him money, it was not until long after his premature death, a car crash, in 1943 that it was appreciated as an artistic masterpiece.

This wasn't the only story surrounding the film, the legend has it that "Nosferatu" star Max Schreck who played Count Orlok was a real vampire. This legend of Murnau and Schreck having a deal that Schreck appear in his movie in return for being allowed to drain the entire cast and crew of their blood afterwards was the basis of the movie "Shadow Of The Vampire".

People long wondered about Schreck, "Schreck" means horror/terror/fright in German, there's also very little known about his life. With this an aura has always hung around the name but as far as anyone knows Schreck wasn't a real vampire but of-course we'll never know for certain. He did star in 40 films prior to his death of a heart attack in 1936. He was 43 years old when he played Count Orlock.

Another legend that surrounds the film is about the film’s producer, Albin Grau. He was fascinated by the occult and was known to be very friendly with the British occultist Aleister Crowley. Grau provided the extraordinarily detailed sketches and designs that gave the film its look. He is said to have had the inspiration for "Nosferatu" after watching a spider sucking the life blood out of a fly, Grau is also known to be another mysterious character.

The name "Nosferatu" is actually the Romanian word for vampire and the film was the very first in film history in which a vampire is killed by sunlight. Despite the film nearing it's 100 year anniversary it is still raved about and also still considered to be the best on screen 'Dracula'. It's background is just as entertaining and also makes the film seem even more darker, Was Schreck a real vampire? Was Grau part of an occult? Or even more terrifying, what if all the copies had been destroyed?

You can watch the full "Nosferatu" film by clicking on the video below:

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