Event: Nosferatu at 100

The Vampire as Contagion and Monstrous Outsider

An event celebrating the centenary of F. W. Murnau’s classic vampire film, Nosferatu (1922) with talks by leading vampire scholars. Tickets available from Eventbrite here.

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The Open Graves, Open Minds Project are hosting an online event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of F. W. Murnau’s classic vampire film, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, which premiered in March 1922. We will have talks by the leading scholars of vampire and Gothic film, Prof. Stacey Abbott, Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes, Dr Sam George, and the author Marcus Sedgwick, with concluding addresses by Prof. Ken Gelder and Dr Bill Hughes. There will be opportunities for all attendees to ask questions of the panel and join in discussion. There will also be a vampiric flash fiction writing competition for those who are feeling creative.

2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the release of F. W. Murneau’s classic vampire film, Nosferatu. The Open Graves, Open Minds Project began in 2010 with extensive research into how that blood-bloated undead monster of East European folklore, the vampire, has been reincarnated through novels, films and other media since the eighteenth century. This led to a very successful international vampire conference in 2010; a book of essays, Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present Day (2013); and a special issue of the scholarly journal, Gothic Studies on vampire narratives, Open Graves, Open Minds: Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture (May 2013). This inspired a pioneering MA module in Vampire Studies, Reading the Vampire: Science, Sexuality and Alterity in Modern Culture, led by Dr Sam George at the University of Hertfordshire. We also celebrated the centenary of Bram Stoker’s death with a symposium in 2012; the bicentenary in 2019 of the publication of John Polidori’s The Vampyre, the first vampire prose fiction in English; and held on-line events on the little-known tale The Black Vampyre, an unusual and provocative story of slavery and rebellion, and the first Black vampire in American literature. So OGOM is well placed to present this stimulating event on Murneau’s film!

Murneau’s Nosferatu was loosely based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, but the protagonist’s and other characters’ names were changed to avoid copyright complications with Stoker’s widow. In the twentieth century the Dracula myth shifted away from Transylvania via the new media of film and was transported to Germany via Murneau’s film in 1922. The word that gives the film its title was taken from Stoker, who found it in Emily Gerard’s ‘Transylvanian Superstitions’ as a Romanian word for ‘vampire’ but, in fact, the word does not exist in the Romanian language: the Romanian word for ‘vampire’ is vampir. Gerard seems to have misread or mistranscribed a Romanian word meaning ‘plaguesome’ or ‘insufferable’ (nesuferit). ‘Nosferatu’ is also close to the Greek word nosforos, meaning ‘plague bearer’. In Stoker, the word is used generically but the makers of Nosferatu give it the status of a capitalised proper name. Vampirism and plague are symbolically combined in the metaphor of vermin characterised by the rats, themes in both Browning’s ‘Pied Piper’ and Stoker’s Dracula.  

What is surprising is how the film differs from Stoker’s novel. In Henrik Galeen’s script all the characters’ names have been changed. Dracula is ‘Count Orlok’, Jonathan Harker’s surname becomes ‘Hutter’, and Mina is renamed ‘Ellen’ (though in later prints the names are restored except for Mina, who is named ‘Nina’). Lucy, who is married, has a minor role and Renfield is Hutter’s employer. It turns out that Renfield is insane and enslaved to Orlok. Van Helsing is renamed ‘Bulwer’, and again, in a significant change, is rendered completely powerless against the vampire. There is no ‘crew of light’ in this film: Ellen destroys the vampire through her courageous self-sacrifice. The events are shifted into the German towns of either Bremen or Wisborg, depending on the print.  

Undoubtedly the most striking feature of the film is Orlok himself, played by Max Shrek (the surname means ‘terror’ in German). He is no Edward Cullen, no R. Patz. He has a bald head, pointed ears, a hooked nose, rat-like teeth. His fangs are set at the front of his mouth (rather than being on either side, as is now familiar), underlining his similarity to the rats he brings in his wake. The film relies for its shock value on the grotesqueness of Orlok and on his association with the bubonic plague, which he brings (unwittingly assisted by Harker) into Bremen.