The Unmistakable Influence of F.W. Murnau

On the heels of the revolutionary Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, German filmmaker F.W. Murnau made one of the most influential horror films ever produced. The effects of Nosferatu have reverberated throughout the world of cinema ever since. From character and set design to cinematography, Murnau’s techniques practically invented the horror film genre.

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2000

Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich star in this interesting film that posits what if Max Schreck really was a vampire? Set during the filming of Nosferatu, Malkovich plays filmmaker F.W. Murnau and Dafoe portrays Schreck who basically eats his way through the film crew. Murnau grants Schreck way too many concessions in order to get his epic vampire opus made. Udo Kier and Cary Elwes also star.

Part dark comedy, part mockumetary, part horror film, Dafoe is masterful as the scheming vampire. Malkovich is manic as a crazed Murnau who will do anything to get his picture finished. The concept is quite original and I enjoy this film very much. It was unexpected.

MV5BNDYxYWY3ZTUtNzNiMi00ZmQyLTliMzAtNDdiZGY1NzVjZTc3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_39. Nosferatu the Vampyre
1979

Klaus Kinski takes on the the role of Count Orlock in Werner Herzog’s remake of F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece. Kinski’s performance is nuanced and layered. Herzog was able to use the names of the characters from Bram Stoker’s novel since rights issues have been long resolved. So, Orlock is now Dracula. Bruno Ganz plays Jonathan Harker and Isabelle Adjani plays Lucy Harker.

Another film that conflates names and characters, but it doesn’t really matter in this instance. I watched this again recently and I was surprised at how good it is.

 

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1922

You know … we almost didn’t have this one. F.W. Murnau did not have the Stoker estate’s permission to use Bram Stoker’s Dracula for this movie, so Murnau changed the characters names and some plot details and scenes. Nosferatu is still basically Dracula. A judge sided with Stoker’s widow and ordered all copies destroyed. Fortunately a few survived.

I first saw this in elementary school on an old 16mm projector. I don’t remember which teacher showed it or what grade, but I am eternally grateful. Max Schreck (Schreck is German for terror) stars as Count Orlock and he is rat-like and truly frightening. This film is atmospheric and suspenseful. The influence of German expressionism is evident throughout and Murnau’s cinematography is almost a character unto itself.

My love of horror films began with this one.

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