A production still from the 1922 movie Nosferatu

Was Nosferatu but a Shadow of the Vampire?

Nosferatu is an attempted adaptation of the Gothic novel Dracula by director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. The reason for the name change to Nosferatu is due to the fact that Murnau could not get the rights to the original source material from the descendants of Bram Stoker, but stubbornly made the film anyway. Funny enough, the opening credits actually say Dracula played by Max Schreck, but later refer to the character as Count Graf Orlok. The film hits a few key points from the original novel, but in short, only covers the first third of Bram Stoker’s book and loosely follows it at that.

The interesting thing about Max Schreck, is at the time he was rumored to be a real vampire because his performance was so eerie. Coincidentally, Shreck’s last name is the German word for “terror,” which helped to influence the rumor. As Shreck was clearly an actor who stared in some of Murnau’s other work, the roomer was quickly put to rest.

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However, the myth inspired director E. Elias Merhige’s and writer Steven Katz’s film Shadow of the Vampire. The film plays on the idea that Max Schreck was a real vampire. Schreck, played by Willem Dafoe, is wrangled into filming with Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, played by John Malkovich, in exchange for eating the crew. The film’s dark humor plays an appealing role in the eyes of filmmakers who know what it’s like working with a difficult actor.

Max Schreck: Did I kill one of your people, Murnau? I can’t remember.

F.W. Murnau: Why him, you monster? Why not the… script girl?

Max Schreck: Oh. The script girl. I’ll eat her later.

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