During the (boreal) summer of 1921, the German filmmaker F. W. Murnau started rolling Nosferatu on location in northern Germany and at the Jofa Film Studios in Berlin. That was the first major vampire movie in movie history and it was entirely fitting that it was an eagerness. Murnau had been denied permission by Bram Stoker’s estate to make an adaptation of the novel. draculafrom 1897.
The director and his screenwriter Henrik Galeen dealt with the inconvenience by calling the protagonist Count Orlok instead of Count Dracula, and renaming the other main characters as well. Even so, the production company Prana Film, soon to go bankrupt anyway, was sued by Stoker’s widow.
Nosferatu it was the perfect prototype for all the other vampire films that followed in great profusion over the last 100 years. To his detractors, including Stoker’s widow, it was scandalous business: an exercise in vulgar plagiarism. To its fans, it still ranks among the best horror movies of all time.
“It was as if an icy blast from Doomsday had passed through Nosferatu“, the Hungarian critic Béla Balázs wrote in the 1920s about the disturbing effect the film had had on viewers. The film today seems even more chilly and disturbing for being so old. The grainy black-and-white film image of the vampire ghastly and haggard max schreck stumbling out of his coffin, rodent-toothed and pointed-eared, still gives viewers chills. Count Orlok is designed to be as repulsive as possible. His fingers are like claws. Rats and flies follow him wherever he wants him to go. The surname Schreck translated from German means “fear”.
Many versions of Dracula
He was so convincing in the role that there was an absurd rumor that he was a real vampire. That idea was behind the movie the shadow of the vampireproduced by Nicholas Cage in 2000, for which Willem Dafoe He was nominated for an Oscar for playing Schreck. He represented death and decay, but he also exercised a strange erotic fascination on both the women and men with whom he was in contact.
Count Orlok hadn’t returned to his coffin when a transformation came for vampires on the silver screen. They were humanized, presented as “troubled, sad and lonely” creatures, as the director described them. Werner Herzog when he made his own version of Nosferatu (1979). They were “desperately thirsty for love, but frightening at the same time.” Being undead was a curse but it added to their attraction. They could go on loving for centuries. Vampires became more and more romanticized.
Bela Lugosi played a vampire for the first time in draculafrom 1931. “I’m Dracula. I greet you… welcome!” he tells his visitors. With his slicked-back hair, flamboyant hospitality and flowery way of speaking, he looked and sounded like a very sinister head waiter in an upmarket Hungarian restaurant. Still, he was far less repulsive than Schreck’s Earl Orlok had been, a detail underlined a few years later when he shared the screen with comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in the horror comedy Abbott and Costello vs. the Ghosts (1948).
Viewers have always tried to deal with the fear and disgust they feel during the scariest horror movies through the release valve of laughter. In Lugosi’s case, Universal took things a step further by turning the originally very scary actor into a figure of fun.
From Carle Dreyer to Hammer
Tall, Dark and Gruesome was the ironic title that the actor Christopher Lee put him in his autobiography. As Dracula in Hammer’s series of films about the character, the handsome British actor portrayed the vampire as if he were a Victorian rake. read paved the way for all the elegant romantic figures that followedfrom Frank Langella and Cleas Bang in adaptations of dracula for film and television, to Robert Pattinson in the saga of TwilightTom Cruise and Brad Pitt in interview with the vampire (1994), and Gary Oldman as the seductive and savage Vlad the Impaler in dracula (1992).
Lee agreed to wear a cape at first dracula by Hammer though he had been unable to find any mention of it in Stoker’s novel. Lugosi had used one before him. He drew the line, however, regarding evening dress on the basis that he thought it “unlikely” that a count in a castle in the middle of gothic Transylvania would wear a tuxedo. “Everything is fine with the stylization but if you fall into excess you end up in the camp”, he explained. Not because camp was necessarily a bad thing. There have been plenty of vampire movies that have enjoyed their own absurdity; films with titles like vampires suck, Dracula: dead and enjoying iteither Fearless vampire slayers.
The genre has allowed directors to be bold and provocative as well as profoundly silly and exploitative. “They are rarely decorously heterosexual, monogamous, respectful companions. Instead, they are polymorphous wicked seducers,” academic Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock wrote of vampires and their amorous proclivities in a 2010 essay.
One of the fascinations of the genre is the way it has covered the line between the artistic and the exploitative. Murnau is one of the auteurs most revered of German silent cinema and yet his name was linked to the first serious vampire films. the vampire witch (1932), by the Danish director Carl Dreyer, is another early example of the vampire movie as high-end art. “I wanted to show that horror is not part of the things that surround us but something of our own subconscious,” explained the filmmaker regarding his film, partially based on the lesbian novella Carmilla (1872), by Sheridan LeFans.
It’s an almost dreamlike story in which viewers quickly find themselves as disoriented as the protagonist, Allan Gray.. The young man immersed himself so deeply in the study of satanic worship and vampires that he cannot distinguish between reality and the supernatural. He lives in a world where vampires drive their victims to suicide, “thereby giving their souls to the evil one.” The only way to get rid of them is to open their graves and drive stakes through their hearts, nailing “their hideous souls” to the ground.
The somber and self-consciously poetic narration of the vampire witch it’s very different from the garish carnage found in so many of the vampire movies that follow. It makes explicit reference to “killer” epidemics and unexplained deaths for which vampires are blamed. own Nosferatu had been made just after the disaster of the Spanish flu epidemic, which between 1918 and 1920 killed 500 million people. The movies can be seen as allegories about deadly diseases that seem to come from nowhere. It wouldn’t be a surprise if more of these films were made in the years to come, as filmmakers struggle to make sense of the devastation wrought by the Covid pandemic.
The vampire genre, however, has gone through as many mutations as the diseases that may have inspired its format. They have also spread globally. You might think of Dracula in his castle in Transylvania, but each region now has its own vampire lore. There are Asian vampire stories (Thirstby Park Chan-woo), Latin American expeditions in the genre (The invention of Chronosby Guillermo Del Toro), and African vampire thrillers (eternityfrom 2010).
Vampires have been the subject of blaxpoitation movies (Blacula, the black vampire), exploitation (The Vampire Lovers), children (The little Vampire) and westerns (cowboys and vampires). And they also continue to inspire hipster art films (for example, only lovers surviveby Jim Jarmusch).
It is a very long way from the gesticulator Schreck in Nosferatu even the jaded, millionaire, rakish and young Taiwanese bloodsuckers in the new satirical vampire movie Dead & Beatifulwhich has just premiered at the Rotterdam Festival. They are bored with a world where they can buy everything and no experience feels particularly new, not even having fangs. In the hands of the Dutch director, the genre gets “international, Asian and about money”.
During the century since Murnau began filming Nosferatuhis “horror symphony”, Thousands of vampire movies have been made. The vast majority were trashed by critics, but audiences keep coming back for more. Fans of the genre will have available in the coming months the directorial debut of Branko Tomovic, vampire. “Our film is inspired by the real vampire cases that occurred in Serbia in the early 1700s. Those were the origins of vampires. Although vampire It’s set in current times, it’s based on those myths,” the writer and filmmaker recently told the magazine Cineuropa.
Robert Eggers plans a remake of Nosferatu with Anya Taylor-Joy, from queen’s gambitalthough it remains to be seen if the film is made. Marvel is sneaking into the world of the undead with an adaptation of Morbiuswith Jared Leto as a vampire superhero. Other recently announced fanged movies have such enticing titles as Sorority Row Vampires, Dance with a Vampire, dark thirst, We Only Come Out at Night, Clan of the VeinY The Strippers and The Vampire’s Daughter. In short, there is an infestation of bat movies. It may be time for pest exterminators to break out the garlic and crucifixes, and for critics to sharpen their stakes, but experience suggests that among all the bloodless scum there is sure to be a new gem or two.
Of The Independent From great britain. Special for Page 12.
*This note was originally published on 4/1/2021