Nosferatu: The Film Resurrected (Part 2)

Florence Stoker, widow to Bram Stoker, did all she could to stamp out any imitators to the vampire in Dracula. She had all copies of Freidrich Willhelm Murnau’s Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens burned. Yet Nosferatu did not stay dead. Like any good horror movie, the villain revived himself and carried on the fight. A print of the film resurfaced in 1929, playing to audiences in New York and Detroit. However preeminent Dracula scholar, David J. Skal, writes that the film “was not taken seriously” and that most audiences considered it “a boring picture”. The print was then purchased by Universal to see what had already been done in terms of a vampire movie. The film was studied by all the key creative personnel leading to the Universal production of Dracula in 1931.

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The undead film continued to rise from the grave throughout the years. An abridged version was aired on television in the 1960s as part of Silents Please, and subsequently released by Entertainment films under the title Terror of Dracula, and then again by Blackhawk Films under the name Dracula. Blackhawk also released the original version to the collector’s market under the title Nosferatu the Vampire. An unabridged copy of the movie survived Florence Stoker’s death warrant and was restored and screened at Berlin’s Film Festival in 1984.

Despite its influence on the making of the 1931 Dracula, Nosferatu has few film decedents. It’s theme of vampire as a scourging plague has only been seriously taken up by two films: the 1979 remake by Werner Herzog, Nosferatu: The Vampyre.

Another film (same year) was the television miniseries of Salem’s Lot, directed by Tobe Hooper.

Perhaps if the original Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens had been allowed regular release, this would not be the case. It remains to be seen if Nosferatu will vanish again with the daylight or if this rare film will rise again in a new form.

For more information on the making of the original Dracula, check out David Skal’s book Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen.

Tim Kane

Nosferatu: The Film That Died (Part 1)

There is no doubt that Freidrich Willhelm Murnau’s Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Symphony of Horror) is a piece of landmark cinema, both for its Expressionist filmmaking and its unique treatment of the vampire as plague. Yet few people saw this monumental film prior to 1960. Though slated for destruction by Bram Stoker’s widow, the film managed to survive, popping up in the most peculiar places.

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Here is a trailer for Nosferatu (colorized, but it’s the best of the batch) that shows just how ominous Max Schrek was in this part.

Nosferatu debuted at the Marble Hall of the Berlin Zoological Gardens in 1922. The movie was the first and last product of a small art collective called Prana Films — the brainchild of artist Albin Grau (later Nosferatu’s production designer). A month later, Florence Stoker caught wind, and she started the legal machines rolling. Her only income at this point was her deceased husband’s book Dracula, and she would not let some German production company steal her meal ticket. During the 1920s, intellectual rights were a bit dodgy, so Florence paid one British pound to join the British Incorporated Society of Authors to help defend her property. Never mind that the society would also pick up the tab for the potentially huge legal bills.

Florence_StokerFlorence seemed unaware that a second vampire film, this one called Drakula, was produced by a Hungarian company in 1921. Although the title harkens back to Bram Stoker’s novel, the resemblance ends there. This film, now lost save for some stills, was more concerned with eye gouging than straight out vampirism. Nosferatu on the other hand took much of its plot from Stoker’s Dracula, changing only the names.

The film continued to be exhibited in Germany and Budapest up through 1925, though Prana was beleaguered by creditors and harassed by Florence Stoker. They tried to settle with the society, offering a cut of the film’s take in order for them to use the Dracula title in England and America. Florence would not relent.

She not only wanted Prana to halt exhibition of the film, she wanted it torched — all prints and negatives of the film destroyed. And she got her way. In 1925 Florence won her case and the destruction order went through. Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens vanished into thin air just as Count Orlock, the vampire in the film, did when exposed to the rays of the morning sun.

For more information on the making of the original Dracula, check out David Skal’s book Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen.

Tim Kane

Bizarre Ways to Become a Vampire

When you step outside the films and popular fiction, vampirism gets a little wonky. In Eastern Europe you don’t get bit to become a vampire. Often, you’re born a vampire. Say what? True, many people equate vampirism to a curse. And there are plenty of ways to get cursed.

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A child born with a caul (a piece of membrane that covers a newborn’s face) would become a vampire after dying. To prevent this, the caul needed to be removed, dried, and ground up. Then the child would eat the powdered caul on his or her seventh birthday.

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A very common cause of vampirism is to die without ever being baptized. This leaves the person vulnerable to malicious spirits.

Suicide is the number one cause of vampirism nearly everywhere (Europe, Africa, China). Similar to being unbaptized, suicide was considered a sin against God. The person was buried away from the village, not on hallowed ground. The English had an interesting tradition of interning the corpse at a crossroads with a steak through the heart. The stake prevented the body form being animated by evil spirits.

In Germany, people who died from an accident risked becoming a vampire. Just a little to the south, in Bavaria, simply leading an immoral life could turn you into a vampire after death. Werewolves were closely related to vampires. Therefore, anyone who ate meat from an animal killed by a wolf would become a vampire.

Finally, is anything disturbs your grave, you will rise as a vampire. If an animal runs across your grave, you’re a vampire. Strangely, if a nun crosses your grave, forget about it. Vampire. This begs the question, how many nuns are traipsing through the cemetery?

Be careful folks. Multiple mistakes with your life (or death) can transform you in to the living dead.

Tim Kane

The Vampire that Ate the Moon

Almost every culture has superstitions about eclipses. Then there’s Albanian and Romanian folklore, where a vampire infects and eats the moon, sucking the life out.

A shot of the Hessian corpse from the Sleepy Hollow movie.

A shot of the Hessian corpse from the Sleepy Hollow movie.

Albanians believe that when a wicked or miserly person dies, he will become a lugat (a sort of ghost vampire). Apparently, holding too tightly to money seems to be sin. One legend has that the ghost of a miser (called Kukudh) haunts his old house. Anyone who sleeps in that house risks being killed by this evil spirit. However, if you can survive the night, you will inherit the miser’s fortune. What a way to earn a living.

A lugat is a form of poltergeist that leaves the corpse every night (except Saturday’s) to smash windows in homes and be a general disturbance. Some versions state that it flies around in the skin of a dead person. Now that puts the white sheet ghost archetype to shame. Imagine seeing a skinned person floating in your hallway. Other versions have that a lugat is a long fingered ghost that possesses a corpse. Wolves seem to be the only force that can drive this creature back into the grave.

As a ghost, a lugat is indestructible. However, if you can catch it in the grave, you can destroy it. First you need to figure out which corpse is the culprit. It’s usually a relative. (They never leave you alone, even after death.) To narrow down your options, get yourself a white stallion and go trotting through the graveyard. Whichever grave the horse balks at is the winner. Dig up the corpse, stuff the grave with brush, and light it ablaze.

Be careful, if you don’t get corpse burning soon, then a lugat will mature into a kukudh. These demons are almost human-like and can travel out in daylight. They are heavyset, short with a goat’s tail. The only way to destroy this form is with a noose of grapevines.

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A lugat can also eat the moon to create an eclipse. Villagers would shoot at the moon to scare the lugat away. Pregnant woman needed to stay indoors, least their unborn child be infected with the disease. The word kukudh comes from the Greek word for plague or pestilence.

Romanian Sleeping Spirits

This evil spirit possess people, possibly still alive. The victim has a pale face and dry skin. When the varcolac spirit gets hungry, the person will fall into a deep sleep. The spirit slips out of the mouth and devours the moon. Sometimes when a red hue covers the moon, people thought that the varcolac was at work. If the host body is moved or roused, the sleep becomes eternal because the spirit cannot find the body again. I’m guessing that this was a warning not to disturb grandpa when he dozes off after too much wine.

Next time you witness an eclipse, start looking for sleeping people or grab yourself a white stallion and head to a graveyard. Cause if you don’t, you may never see the sun again.

Tim Kane

A Stumble of Zombies: Collective Nouns for Monsters

One of my favorite books that I read to my daughter (I’m stealing it the first chance I get) is A Dignity of Dragons by by Jacqueline Ogburn and Nicoletta Ceccoli.

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What this book does is address the much needed names for collective nouns of mythical creatures. What the heck is a collective noun? Well, back in the nineteenth century, Victorians got awful bored with out any television or internet. They played a game where they thought up clever names for groups of animals. The idea was to get a name that encompassed the spirit of the animal. Some of my favorites are a crash of rhinos or a flamboyance of flamingos. Get the idea?

Jacqueline Ogburn came up with all sorts of collective nouns for mythical creatures, like: a bolt of hippogriffs, a splash of mermaids, and a dazzlement of Quetzalcoatls. I wanted to continue this trend, only with creatures from horror. Specifically classic monsters. Here’s what I came up with.

  • a stumble of zombies
  • a coffin of vampires
  • a howling of werewolves
  • a bolt of Frankensteins*
  • a tanna of mummies**
  • a caldron of wiches
  • a clang hunchbacks
  • an ectoplasm of phantoms
  • a haunting of ghosts
  • a glow of will-o-whisps
  • a bottle of djinn***
  • a trample of kaiju****
  • a decapitation of headless horsemen
  • a tinker of gremlins
  • a hunger of ghouls
  • a husk of scarecrows
  • a marrow of skeletons
  • a translucence of invisible men
  • a beaker of mad scientists
  • a lever of henchmen
  • a scream of victims
  • a probe of aliens
  • a circuit of robots

If you can think of any to add to the list (no serial killers or the suck, just classic monsters) then add to the comments below.

Tim Kane

*Yes I know that the doctor is actually Frankenstein, but in the sequel it called the Bride of Frankenstein, and she’s intended for the monster, so… Let’s just settle on Frank as the monster’s name.

** Tanna leaves were a device introduced in the later mummy movies as a way of controlling the creature.

*** I know lamps are more common, but a lamp of djinn sounds weird.

**** This is the name for the giant Japanese monsters like Godzilla and Mothra. Go ahead, check out the wiki site.