Burned to Light

Stoker's Dracula Endures in Murnau's Nosferatu


Bram Stoker’s Dracula is undoubtedly one of the most successful works of horror fiction ever written. But yet despite the popularity that Count Dracula and other vampire figures enjoy, the novel has only recently received critical acclaim. In the interim, countless film interpretations of Stoker’s story have gradually overshadowed the original. Arguably the greatest of all these is F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. The intent of this essay is to illustrate the relationship that exists between the two.

Before this examination can be made, a brief summary of Stoker’s life will be necessary, outlining his education as well as his career in the theatre - both of which contribute to the genesis of his novel. A short synopsis of Dracula will be useful, as well as an account of his major influences and primary sources. Similarly, we must examine Murnau’s early life and maturation as an artist if we are to fully understand Nosferatu.

As with Stoker, Murnau’s education and theatrical experience are key aspects of his growth. His skill in other visual arts proves to be his greatest asset as a director. I will give a review of the script adaptation - showing which parts of Dracula Murnau used, and which he discarded - as well as the subsequent copyright battle with Stoker’s widow.

The relationship between Dracula and Nosferatu is most clearly illustrated by examining how each artist treats the dominant idea of the role of the vampire as a sort of “other.” This term encompasses various interrelated notions: the vampire as a horrifying invader that inspires terror in everyone it encounters; the vampire as a racial and geographical outsider; the vampire as an ambiguous, yet potent and threatening sexual presence. In this way, a full understanding of the connection between Dracula and Nosferatu may be reached, showing that Count Dracula did not materialize out of thin air.

Chapter 1: Bram Stoker and the Birth of Dracula

Bram Stoker was born in Dublin, Ireland, on November 8, 1847. The third of seven children born to Abraham and Charlotte Stoker, he spent much of his childhood bedridden due to an unknown illness. Though his body was essentially inactive, his mind was always kept stimulated by his mother. He was fascinated when she told of “how she survived the cholera epidemic of 1832 in Sligo, her birthplace; of how she heard the banshee cry when her mother died; of how some during the famine drank blood extracted from the veins of cattle, including the family cow”

As time passed young Bram’s condition improved until he had “enlarged to the biggest member of [his] family” [2]. In 1864 he entered Trinity College where he would excel in athletics, particularly running, football, and weight lifting. A skilled debater, Stoker also became president of the Philosophical Society. After graduation he began work in the Irish civil service, just as his father had before him. During this time he published his first book entitled The Duties of Clerks and Petty Sessions in Ireland. As well as following his father’s career path, Bram also inherited his love of the theatre, an interest that would provide a welcome escape from the monotony of his day job.

The theatre proved to be a considerable influence upon young Bram Stoker. After seeing a certain performance of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals in 1873, his life would be changed forever. The play starred Henry Irving, “a man of quality who stood out from his surroundings on the stage as a being of another social world” [3]. Stoker soon began to write reviews for local newspapers, and when he saw lrving three years later in the role of Hamlet, he praised him very highly.

They soon met and became friends. In 1878 Stoker rather suddenly married Florence Balcombe, a Dublin girl who had also been courted by Oscar Wilde. Five days later he made another surprising life decision, leaving his secure position in Ireland to work in London as the acting manager of Irving’s Lyceum Theatre. He would perform many duties with the company (bookkeeping, writing letters, etc.) and often accompanied Irving during touring. On a number of occasions they traveled to America, where Stoker met Walt Whitman - a man whose work he had always admired very much.

In 1890 Stoker began Working on Dracula, writing in his spare time from work over a span of six years. When Irving died in 1905, Stoker was prompted to write Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving in honor of his long time friend. He would write other works during his lifetime, but only this and, of course, Dracula achieved much popularity. Stoker died in 1912 (some say from syphilis, though this is speculative), not living to see the prosperity that his novel Dracula would enjoy, partly as a result of its later success as a stage production [4]

This, Stoker’s most remembered work, tells the story of Jonathan Harker, an English solicitor, who travels to Transylvania in order to help the wealthy Count Dracula buy a London estate. Soon after his arrival, young Harker finds that he is being kept prisoner in Castle Dracula. The Count (actually a vampire) departs for London leaving Jonathan at the mercy of three vampire women. Dracula makes his way to England aboard a ship named the Demeter, and once there he makes a young Woman named Lucy Westenra, his first victim. She is a close friend of Mina Murray, Harker’s fiancée. Shortly after these attacks, Lucy begins to exhibit strange behavior, sleepwalking frequently, complaining of nightmares, and experiencing massive blood loss. Her three suitors - Dr. Seward, Quincey Morris, and (the successful one) Anhur Holmwood - attempt to save her through numerous blood transfusions under the guidance of the Dutch professor, Abraham Van Helsing. But despite their efforts Lucy eventually dies and transforms into a vampire.

In the meantime Jonathan returns to London, bringing his journal with him. This provides essential information about the nature of the vampire that Mina will soon share with Van Helsing and the rest of their company. The group soon succeeds in freeing Lucy’s soul of the vampire’s curse, and then proceeds to hunt down the Count. But Dracula is elusive, and can escape to the many boxes of earth that he has scattered throughout the city. With the help of Renfield, his lunatic disciple, he begins to secretly feed on Mina. When the group of men discovers what is happening, they chase Dracula back to Transylvania in a race against time, since Mina (just as Lucy before her) is gradually transforming into a vampire. In the novel’s climax, the hunters catch up with the Count near his castle and destroy him before Mina is lost.

Stoker drew on an assortment of sources while researching and constructing this novel. His involvement in the theatre certainly played a part in the creation of his novel. For example, seeing repeated performances of Shakespeare’s Macbeth prompted him to invent three weird sisters of his own. Other plays creep into Dracula as well: “Harker, while a prisoner in the castle, quotes Hamlet; and Lucy empathizes with Desdemona, a character in Othello[5]. Many people even speculate that Stoker’s Count Dracula was modeled on Henry Irving. However, “there is not a scrap of evidence to suggest that Stoker resented him” [6].

While the Dracula/Harker and Irving/Stoker relationships might appear to have much in common, it is doubtful that Stoker would portray Irving, Whom he all but worshipped at times, as a repulsive devil. On the other hand, it is likely that the portrayal of Dracula was done with Irving’s stage presence in mind, especially his many performances of Mephistopheles in Faust.

For his vampire mythology, Stoker drew heavily on both earlier vampire literature and Eastern European folklore. One person that surely influenced the Irish novelist was fellow Dubliner Sheridan Le Fanu. His story Carmilla (1872) tells a tale of female vampirism set in distant Styria. Stoker originally intended that his vampire hail from Styria also, but he later decided upon Transylvania, likely because to the influence of Emily Gerard’s article “Transylvanian Superstitions.” Stoker’s notes indicate that he had indeed read this work, which outlined the characteristics of the vampires that many Romanians believed ín. He drew heavily from this account, including this passage which he copied almost verbatim into his notes:

[E]very person killed by a nosferatu becomes likewise a vampire after death, and will continue to suck the blood of other innocent people till the spirit has been exorcised, either by opening the grave of the person suspected and driving a stake through the corpse, or firing a pistol shot into the coffin. In very obstinate cases it is further recommended to cut off the head and replace it in the coffin with the mouth filled with garlic, or to extract the heart and burn it, strewing the ashes over the grave [7].

Here we see several of the qualities found in Stoker’s vampires, including the effectiveness of garlic, and the use of a wooden stake to dispatch the creature. Stoker supplemented this information with additional elements. His vampire has limited power during the day, at which time he usually returns to his coffin to rest. Dracula may be halted by various religious items such as the crucifix and the eucharistie. Furthermore, he can only enter a room if invited, but after that he can come and go as he pleases. He can influence nature, controlling the wolves (his “children of the night”), and propelling the Demeter with full-blown sails across the sea. Another source that Stoker draws upon is Sabine Baring­-Gould’s The Book of Were­Wolves (1865). According to Miller, he “borrowed many of the characteristics of Werewolves and adapted them for Count Dracula: canine teeth, pointed nails, hairy palms and shape­shifting” [8]. In addition, Stoker’s notes indicate reference to an 1896 newspaper article from New York World entitled “Vampires in New England.” This article afñrmed many of the ideas that he had already worked into his novel at that point. Thus, with the help of both literature and Transylvanian folklore, Stoker Composed a creature unlike any that had been seen before [8].

Gerard’s article also appears to be the birthplace of the strange word “nosferatu.” Stoker makes use of it twice in Dracula [9] as he, like Gerard, freely substitutes it for “vampire.” However, this word (just like the creature it describes) is somewhat of an anomaly. According to Elizabeth Miller,

no such word exists in the Romanian language. Gerard must have misunderstood what she had heard, possibly “nosophoros” (Greek for plague-carrier) or “necuratul” (a Romanian synonym for “the devil”) [10].

Of course, after Stoker’s novel, “nosferatu” would become a commonly used word, as we shall see later, despite its rather dubious origin.

Chapter 2: F.W. Murnau and Nosferatu

Two years before Bram Stoker began work on Dracula, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau was born in 1888 in the small town of Bielefeld, Germany. He was raised in an artistically rich environment, reading much classical literature and staging many plays with the help of his siblings. He went on to study art history and literature at the University of Heidelberg. It was here that Murnau became acquainted with many others who shared his love of the arts. Surprisingly, he found that he could receive an adequate education in contemporary art away from the classroom, extravagantly spending his father’s money on traveling, and collecting works of modern art. Murnau became involved in the theatre, and soon caught the eye of the famous stage director Max Reinhardt, who offered him a place in his theatre school in Berlin [11].

Reinhardt was a key figure in the theatre at a time when the scene was rich in new ideas. He used the newly developed electric light in many of his performances, realizing its aestethic potential. Reinhardt founded the Kammerspiele, or chamber theatre, which relied on the manipulation of light and shadow to create atmosphere in small, confined stage areas. In this way, the director could adapt the visual aspects of the play to convey important themes or ideas [12].

Reinhardt’s influence in early German cinema, and upon young artists like Murnau, cannot be overstated. The artistic style developed in the Kammerspiele was subsequently continued in countless films. The most notable, of course, was Robert Weine’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1921). This movie used painted sets rather than a natural setting, and created the same claustrophobic feeling that was typical of Reinhardt’s plays. Other films continued in this same tradition: Metropolis (1923) and Waxworks (1924) to name just a few. Themes of chaos and disorder were common in all of these films and, as with Reinhardt’s plays, they were evident in the scenery, costume, and lighting. Initially Murnau’s role in the theatre was not a prominent one, since he was but one of many young artists wishing to learn from the master:

Taking on the temporary job of assistant or of Dramaturg at the Deutsches Theatre complex became something of a commonplace among youthful aspirants to a career in the theatre, and Reinhardt seemed never to refuse. As a result of his general policy and attitude towards the drama and the profession, he contributed to another phenomenon: not only in Berlin, but everywhere, serious playgoers began to perceive the work of the director, the régisseur, as opposed to that of the actor, as the major object of interest [13].

So too did Murnau’s focus gradually shift to directing, partly because his unusual height hindered his advancement as an actor. But when the war began in 1914, he was enlisted into the German infantry, and by 1916 he was transferred to the air force. Stationed near Verdun, he was among only a few that survived the fighting. When the war was over, Murnau and others from the Reinhardt school founded a film company: Murnau Veidt Filmgesellschaft [14]. His first films were soon to follow, the most notable being Nosferatu - arguably the greatest of all the cinematic incarnations of Stoker’s Dracula.

Before examining the development of this film, it must be clarified that Nosferatu is indeed Murnau’s work. That is to say, that the movie is a product of his vision; that his was the final word concerning what appeared on screen. This point is crucial, since there has been some past debate concerning exactly who should be credited for what in many of Murnau’s films. Karl Freund, the brilliant cinematographer who worked with Murnau on numerous films wrote this of the director:

I don’t think Murnau ever looked through the view-finder; it didn’t much interest him. He left all that to me. He didn’t have anything to do with the lighting either, and I must say Carl Mayer used to take much more interest than he did in the framing….He showed little interest in the camera and the lighting [15].

But Freund did not work with Murnau on Nosferatu. Lotte Eisner argues that even if Murnau displayed such indifference in other films, it is certainly not the case with Nosferatu. She cites Eduard Kubat and Heinrich C. Richter who both are of the opinion that Murnau, even when collaborating with high ­profile colleagues, always strived to create a “total” film; one that reflected his influence in each and every aspect [16]. Indeed, the young director proved himself as a most capable filmmaker. His artistic background is evident throughout the film. He was forced to be creative since Nosferatu was a relatively low budget movie, and thus Murnau - even if he had wanted to - could not afford elaborate studio-built sets. As a result, the film uses natural objects in order to express Murnau’s vision. His knowledge of landscape painting can be seen at numerous instances in Nosferatu. Murnau makes reference to works by many painters of the 1800s, most notably Caspar David Friedrich [17]. In this way, Murnau’s films bridge the gap between the old and the new in German culture, in an effort to bring credibility to the fledgling artform of the cinema:

Murnau’s oscillation between nineteenth ­century and twentieth century can [can be seen] in the character of the vampire itself, who is a creature of horror and desire - two psychological states Well suited to the emphasis on subjectivity that links Romanticism to Expressionist painting and flourishes in Weimar cinema [18].

Nosferatu is, in every way, a film of contrasts. Thus it is appropriate that Murnau’s artistic style reflects that. His use of chiaroscuro - the artistic style based on striking black and white contrasts, acquired in the Reinhardt school - conveys the film’s most important ideas in a visual manner, like any good Expressionist film should. His films fit this genre, insofar as they center upon subjectivity, conveying an unrealistic view of the world that would impose a certain intended atmosphere upon the audience. Reinhardt’s Expressionist dramas used this principle, and “were marked by a nightmarish mood and vivid colour and chiaroscuro in the setting and lighting” [19].

Henrik Galeen was Nosferatu’s scriptwriter, and his contribution was indeed very important. However, Eisner makes it clear that nothing was written in stone with Murnau, not even the script. He typically worked every day with his writers, discussing even the smallest of details [20]. Evidence of Murnau’s manipulation can be seen in surviving pages from the screenplay (235). Directions are scribbled everywhere, indicating changes in lighting or camera angles or often to the plot itself. Some changes have even been made that are not accounted for in the script, most notably the horrifying sequence that shows the vampire’s shadow climbing the stairs to Ellen’s bedroom (46).

Murnau and Galeen had a difficult task on their hands with this film. They had to comb through Stoker’s very long novel, filtering out all but the most important concepts. Only the plot’s most basic details would remain, providing the structure for a shortened feature-length version of Dracula. Like Stoker’s novel, the film would tell of Harker’s trip to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, and the Count’s purchase of the dilapidated estate and his subsequent voyage across the sea. Dracula plagues the town and focuses his attention on Mina, but is ultimately destroyed by the forces of good. Of course, all the characters’ names are changed (Harker is Thomas Hutter, Mina is Ellen, Dracula is Orlok, Van Helsing is Bulwer, London is Wisborg, etc.) in an effort to give the film some semblance of originality. The filmmakers did not pretend to be the story’s creators, stating that the movie was a “freely adapted” interpretation of the book [21]. Unfortunately Murnau and company neglected to take the appropriate steps to obtain official permission to film Nosferatu. It is possible that those at Prana-Film assumed that simply acknowledging Dracula was enough. Only a year earlier Murnau had filmed a similar adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde entitled Der Januskopf (which coincidentally featured Bela Lugosi in a supporting role), and encountered few legal difficulties along the way.

Murnau’s writer for this film, Hans Janowitz, apparently shares Galeen’s “legal tact,” as he replaces the name “Jekyll” with “Jesky1l” [22]. Before deciding to shoot Nosferatu, Murnau might have been encouraged by the fact that some Hungarian filmmakers had successfully produced Drakula (1920), a similarly pirated version of Stoker’s novel that has since fallen into obscurity [23]. Of course it is also entirely possible that they might not have even known of the existence of Florence Stoker, the author’s aging widow. She had not been paid by the film company, or even consulted for permission to use the novel. Florence Stoker did not have much money, since the only work of her husband that still provided income was Dracula. She knew that large amounts of money were being thrown around to advertise the German movie (even more than was spent during production) and she wanted a part of it.

Florence joined the British Society of Authors hoping that they would assist in her fight against Prana-Film. Somewhat short of money themselves, the society could only assign the case to their German lawyer. They told Florence that “if the film company gives in, all well and good, but if they show a disposition to fight we cannot take the case further on your behalf” [24]. But the widow was extremely persistent in her efforts and, with the aid of some connections within the society, she managed to persuade them to remain with the case for much longer than was their original intention. It would be a disgrace if they allowed the rights of a deceased author to be violated simply because his widow could not afford to defend his rights. The matter came to be seen as an important battle that would establish the rights of literature in the face of the fledgling film industry. Prana­Film soon declared bankruptcy despite the fact that screenings of the film were popping up across Europe. The Stoker party, frustrated in their attempts to nail the elusive film company, decided to change their strategy and pursue the film’s receivers.

The case finally reached the courts in March of 1924. The ruling was against Prana, but the company appealed the decision. This was truly a monster that would not die. Florence wanted all copies of the film kept from circulation, and by July 1925 after numerous appeals, she thought she had succeeded. Prana’s liquidator had given in, and all prints and negatives of the movie were to be destroyed. Imagine Florence’s horror when she later learned that the film had resurfaced, this time advertised as “Dracula by F.W. Murnau,” implying that the director was also the story’s author. Florence was outraged, but yet there was little she could do. In January of 1926 a representative of the Society of Authors wrote her:

“I beg to inform you with great regret we must drop the case of the film Dracula …. The Sargent’s Trust have already done everything to help us trace the man who actually held the film, but we find this person has disappeared entirely” [25].

Just like Stoker’s vampire “time is on [his] side,” and Nosferatu stubbornly refuses to go away [26].

Regardless of all the legal controversy surrounding the movie, it remains a truly brilliant and carefully crafted work of art. Murnau’s film is deeply indebted to the Expressionist movement, taking ideas from various media. Painting, film, and theatre are all quoted extensively in some way or another in Nosferatu. This film is a testament to the wide knowledge of art that Murnau had come to possess. Numerous paintings are referred to, even reproduced, by the film’s director. This is evident from the very beginning of the movie as the opening shot of the citadel refers to a painting by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner entitled The Red Tower in Helle. Likewise, Amold Bocklin’s The Isle of the Dead is surely the inspiration for the scene in which Orlok (Max Schreck) silently crosses the river standing in a boat. Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson is alluded to when the townspeople gather to examine the dead captain’s body. But, more than any other painter, Nosferatu reflects the influence of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich. This was to be an entirely German film, dependent on primarily German sources [27]. Ellen (Greta Schroeder) sitting on the beach refers back to Friedrich’s work The Monk by the Sea. The shot of Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) walking past the shrine in the Carpatians might allude to The Cross in the Mountain. The exterior door of Count Orlok’s castle appears to be borrowed from Friedrich’s work The Churchyard, which contains a similar arching gateway [28].

Murnau also appears to have been influenced by other filmmakers of his era. When comparing Nosferatu to the foremost Expressionist film of the day - Robert Weine’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – one does not immediately see a connection. The most obvious similarity is the fact that both movies tell of a town plagued by a mysterious murderer. They are indeed both Expressionist films, but while Murnau implemented natural objects to compose his shots, Weine and company used only studio-built sets. Shadows were painted on the walls and conventional architectural rules were abandoned. Chaos rules the look of this film, symbolically reflecting its terrifying content. The movie relates the story of a mountebank, Caligari, who controls a somnambulist, Cesare, as a part of his sideshow. This murderous slave sleeps in a cabinet whenever he isn’t out prowling the town on behalf of his master, the doctor. There are numerous images in the film of Cesare sleeping in his cabinet. These must have surely been fresh in Murnau’s head when he was shooting Nosferatu. The way that Murnau shows Knock (Alexander Granach), Hutter’s crazed employer, perched high atop a chair is reminiscent of the lofty clerk in Caligari as well. In both films, the directors employ mise-en-scène to illustrate the authority of certain characters, placing them in the appropriate on-screen position.

Certain Expressionist techniques are common to the two films. Both Caligari and Nosferatu are textbook examples of chiaroscuro. This technique plays a part in the actors’ make-up and costume as well, since in both movies many of the major players have dark eye make-up, extremely white skin, and very light or very dark clothing. The two movies include the usual angry mob (also seen in Metropolis, the third in the “big three” of early German Expressionist movies), which is a common idea in this particular genre. Many characters act as though they are of a single mind – whether it be the townspeople who chase Cesare through the streets of Hollstenwall, or those who pursue Knock all over Wisborg.

Despite Nosferatu’s obvious tendency towards visual means of expression, the fact remains that Murnau has a story to tell - one that he cannot convey with pictures alone. The narration of Nosferatu, because it is a silent movie, depends largely on the use of intertitles to elaborate upon what is on screen. Some devices are taken from the novel in order to achieve this same purpose: the letter that Thomas writes Ellen is shown on screen, as is the captain’s log from the Demeter. Murnau adds The Book of the Vampires in order to provide the audience with important information conceming the nature of the monster. This addition is an adequate replacement for Van Helsing’s lengthy description of the powers and limitations of Dracula in chapter 18 of the novel. It also assumes the role of Harker’s journal at the end of the film, when Ellen is in search of the secrets of the vampire. She finds the answer in the book, just as Mina does in the journal that Jonathan kept at Dracula’s castle. All these documents are used to supplement the intertitles, which is very important if the film is to avoid becoming too choppy due to the constant interruption of the title screens.

Murnau also draws from the numerous animals that Stoker includes in his novel. The restless horses are seen when Hutter stops at the inn, showing that “sometimes animals can sense evils that humans cannot” (Murnau, Nosferatu). The wolves in the novel are replaced by a single jackal that creeps near the edge of the forest while the horses trot nervously around the pasture. Bats appear in Nosferatu, though one has to watch carefully in order to notice, depending on the quality of the print. When Hutter arrives at Orlok’s castle he looks up and sees many bats fluttering around the tower. They are extremely small and could easily be dismissed by the audience as the “graininess” of the aged film. Later in the movie when Orlok arrives in Wisborg, he enters the town courtyard through an archway, carrying a coffin. As he does so, what appears to be a bat flies over his shoulder and out of the screen. Again it is very tiny and easy to miss, but the addition of the bat subtly contributes to a beautifully composed shot.

The rats that appear in Dracula at Carfax also manage to infest Murnau’s film. They accompany the vampire on his trip to Wisborg, representing the plague that his presence brings to the town. It must be noted that the vampire itself is part human and part rat, providing in some respects a different monster than the one seen in Stoker’s book. Pointed teeth, claws, and ears all contribute to Schreck’s rat-like appearance. The vampire in Nosferatu both resembles and differs from that of Stoker’s Dracula. A detailed description of the latter is provided by Van Helsing:

This vampire which is amongst us is of himself so strong in person as twenty men; he is of cunning more than mortal, for his cunning be the growth of ages …. he can command all the meaner things: the rat, and the owl, and the bat - the moth and the fox, and the Wolf; he can grow and become small; and he can at times vanish and come unknown (Stoker, Dracula 237).

In Murnau’s film the vampire is indeed connected with various animals - rats, bats, and jackals - as they often seem to signify his evil presence. Orlok can also suddenly appear or disappear, with the aid of some clever dissolves on the part of the director. Murnau’s vampire, however, proves to be a very different beast in many ways.

The greatest difference between the two vampires is their respective reactions to sunlight. Van Helsing describes how Stoker’s Dracula only loses power during the day: “If he be not at the place whither he is bound, he can only change himself at noon or at exact sunrise or sunset” (240). In contrast, Murnau’s Orlok is immediately annihilated when exposed to sunlight. This idea would persist throughout the twentieth century, and eventually the notion that vampires are destroyed by the sun would become part of the popular mythology. Luckily for Ellen she faced Count Orlok instead of Count Dracula, or else she might have been feasted upon until noon.

In another departure from the novel, religious themes are given only minor significance in the film, and few sacred items appear on screen. Murnau, for the most part, omits the religious issues that were so dominant in Stoker’s Dracula. Only the Madonna in the mountains and the crosses on the beach stand out as notable Christian images. Technology is another important theme in the novel that does not make it to the big screen. In Stoker’s novel, science combines with religion and myth to provide effective weapons for battle against Count Dracula. Van Helsing intertwines both modes of thought, mixing the advancing knowledge of today with the superstitions of yesterday. Yet Van Helsing is noticeably absent from Nosferatu, since the corresponding Professor Bulwer (John Gottowt) plays a minuscule role in the film. His primary function is to provide commentary on the vampire-­like animals that exist in nature: the venus fly-trap, the spider, and the polyp. This continues the film’s preoccupation with nature, and points out the fact that the vampire is also a product of the natural world. Like all of these animals, he has no choice but to prey on other animals for survival. Murnau does hint toward the idea of Orlok as a victim, unlike Stoker who “does not imagine him from within as having any sort of tortured self’ [29]. In the novel the vampire is a repulsive, demonized figure - a foreign invader that brings evil to London.

Chapter 3: The Vampire as “Other” in Dracula

The role of the vampire as an outsider - a horrifying, evil presence - is due primarily to its “unnatural” sexual power. The vampire represents an ambiguous sexuality that creates anxiety in the Victorian world. Thus when Jonathan travels east, he finds an inversion of typical gender roles in the three vampire women. One of them approaches him with an aggression that is usually associated with the male sex:

There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed about to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one’s flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer - nearer (Stoker, Dracula 38).

Jonathan passively waits in “delightful anticipation,” assuming the role of the receptive female. He is the male who desires penetration. Ultimately, this scene is halted not by Harker but by the Count. He suddenly appears, throwing the vampire women aside, exclaiming “This man belongs to me!” (39). Such an unusual exclamation prompts the reader to question the nature of Dracula’s sexuality. As Craft tells us, the vampire mouth is an image that blurs the boundaries that separate the male and the female:

Luring at first with an inviting orifice, a promise of red softness, but delivering instead a piercing bone, the vampire mouth fuses and confuses what Dracula’s civilized nemesis, Van Helsing and his Crew of Light, works so hard to separate [30].

Here are the images of penis and vagina combined - a “vagina dentata” that again makes us wonder about the sexual orientation of the vampire [31].

The sexual threat of Dracula in Stoker’s novel is that he poses a foreign danger to Victorian society and, as such, must be destroyed. To this end, the author usually speaks of sexuality and evil as inseparable entities. Even though Lucy begins as a “good Woman,” she displays an underlying, playful sexuality at times. After she is courted by Holmwood, Seward, and Morris, she complains “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble? But this is heresy, and I must not say it” (Stoker, Dracula 59). Lucy expresses notions (no matter how jokingly) of discontent with Victorian sexual convention. Similarly, after Dracula penetrates Lucy in the graveyard, she expresses her thoughts of the experience in a most suggestive manner:

my soul seemed to go out from my body and float about the air. I seem to remember that once the West Lighthouse was right under me, and then there was a sort of agonizing feeling, as if I were in an earthquake (98).

Stoker’s oven sexual imagery here is unmistakable. The lighthouse serves as a phallic symbol (especially if one considers its position) while the reference to an earthquake is surely an allusion to female orgasm.

Even more sexual is the description of the vampire ­Lucy’s death at the hands of her husband Arthur. Again, Stoker provides an obvious representation of phallic penetration and orgasm:

The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions; the sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with crimson foam. But Arthur never faltered. He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake, whilst the blood from the pierced hear: welled and spurred up around it (216).

The sexual overtones of this scene continue during Stoker’s description of an exhausted Arthur with “great drops of sweat” on his forehead, breathing in “broken gasps.” The sexuality that is associated with Lucy throughout is ultimately punished and corrected at the hands of these four “brave men.” Stoker’s crew equally condemns evil and sexuality, and Lucy’s early exit from the novel is typical of their quest to rid their world of both.

In chapter 21 when Dracula forces Mina to drink from the wound in his chest, allusions to sexuality abound once again:

When the blood began to spurt out, he took my neck and pressed my mouth to the wound, so that I must either suffocate or swallow some of the - Oh my God! my God! What have I done? (288)

Mina cuts her story short in revulsion before she states exactly what it was that she swallowed. Blood? Milk? Semen? The reader is not told, as Stoker once again leaves us guessing. In order to better understand the sexual ambiguity of Stoker’s Dracula, one must return to the somewhat ambiguous life of its author. Stoker repeatedly expresses an anxiety that certain relationships in his life might be misunderstood. He all but worships Henry Irving, but yet he often feels the need to assert his manhood so that the friendship is seen as he wishes it to be seen. In Reminiscences, Stoker describes his reaction to one of Irving’s powerful recitations

in a way that attempts…to draw attention to the manliness of his own character. “I was as men go a strong man, strong in many ways…I had played for years in the University football team…I was physically immensely strong…When, therefore, after his recitation I became hysterical, it was distinctly a surprise to my friends.” This apologia then allows him – surely this is its underlying strategy – to pour out his feelings of intense attachment without danger of “misinterpretation” [32].

When Irving saw how Stoker reacted to his performance, he presented him with a picture of himself and inscribed it “God bless you!” Stoker Later writes of how that same picture “with those loving words…unmans [him] once again as [he] writes” [33]. Here is subtle evidence of gender inversion in Stoker’s life, despite his former attempts to show himself as the most masculine man. The fact that Stoker’s relationship with Irving took precedence over his marriage certainly emphasizes his tendencies towards the homosocial. Even more suggestive is the manner in which he describes his relationship with the famous actor:

Irving and I were so much together that after a few years we could almost read a thought of the other; we could certainly read a glance or expression. I have sometimes seen the same capacity in a husband and wife who have lived together for long. [34]

Surely this capacity did not exist between him and his wife Florence. Aside from Irving, there was another man in Stoker’s life that he would make the object of his worship. During his time at Trinity College, Stoker discovered and developed a love for the poetry of Walt Whitman. Poems such as Leaves of Grass were the subject of mockery on the campus because of an underlying homoeroticisrn. Yet Stoker embraced the Work of the American poet, eventually becoming his enthusiastic public defender. In his Reminiscences, he recalls:

We had quite a fight over [Whitman] with our companions who used to assail us with shafts of their humour on all occasions. Somehow, we learned, I think, a good deal in having perpetually to argue without being able to deny - in so far as quotation went at all events - the premises of our opponents [35].

Stoker’s interest in Whitman is likely based on the poet’s endorsement of intimate male companionship. This sentiment would later serve as justification for his feelings about Henry Irving, as evident when Stoker presented the actor with a collection of Whitman’s poetry. One can argue that Stoker’s defense of Whitman was, in part, a defense of his own sexuality. He advised the poet to make cuts to his poetry, removing controversial material to make it more unoffending. This type of restraint would later rear its head in Stoker’s own work, Dracula. Furthermore, Stoker’s later comment in “The Censorship of Fiction” can also be seen as a repression of his true nature: “A close analysis will show that the only emotions which in the long run harm are those arising from sex impulses, and when we have realized this we have put a finger on the actual point of danger” [36].

Another expression of anxiety towards the homosexual can be seen by what is missing from his Reminiscences. This work, which is “otherwise full of dropped names, anecdotes, and asides about well-known people,” contains no mention at all of Florence’s former suitor, and friend to the Stoker family, the famous Oscar Wilde. Wilde was convicted of “what the law picturesquely calls sodomy” and was subsequently sentenced to two years of hard labor (R. Ellmann xiii). Stoker’s omission could not simply be attributed to an aversion for controversial subject matter, since he readily discusses his friendship with the scandalous Ellen Terry (along with her three marriages and numerous other extramarital relations) in the work. Stoker was clearly anxious that “Wilde’s name (and the homosexuality with which it had become inextricably bound)” would cause the above passages from Reminiscences to be interpreted as homosexual [37].

As well as expressing this sort of homosocial anxiety, Stoker displays xenophobic sentiments in Dracula. The division between the East and the West in the novel is clear. As he leaves Budapest, Harker states, “The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East” (Stoker, Dracula 1). Transylvania is an unusual and mysterious land where superstition dominates over science and reason. Jonathan is amused by the primitive peasants and speaks of them in a tone of condescension. But yet the peasants know the dangers that the land contains, while Harker - as educated as he is - remains entirely ignorant of that which these simple people know so well.

Once he reaches the vampire’s castle, Jonathan begins to feel the oppressive atmosphere that exists in these new surroundings. Dracula tells him “We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your Ways, and there shall be to you many strange things” (21). His sleep patterns are changed, and when he does sleep he experiences nightmares. As a result, he must struggle to retain his sanity. Symbols of the world that he left behind provide solace for Harker (such as the English books in Dracula’s library), and he is distressed when they are removed (i.e. his shaving mirror is taken when Dracula discovers it). But Jonathan’s only protection from the vampire is some of Eastern superstition given to him by the peasants in the form of a crucifix. His tendency to cling to rational thought actually serves as a hindrance in seeing the unbelievable truth that he faces at Castle Dracula.

Other incidences serve to illustrate the differences between the Eastern and Western worlds. When Jonathan uses shorthand to write a letter to Mina, Dracula is baffled and cannot understand the message. The division between East and West is equally a division between old and new, primitive and modem. The figure of Van Helsing serves as a bridge between these two worlds, as he is student of both rational thought and ancient superstition. This role as mediator is further emphasized by the fact that he hails from Amsterdam, which is geographically situated between London and Transylvania. The juxtaposition of East and West can also be seen in the contrast of old versus new. Stoker includes numerous modern inventions in his novel: the typewriter, phonograph, and camera are all used by the group of heroes as weapons against the ancient vampire.

Stoker represents the East as having a very distinct atmosphere: it is a cold, dark, moonlit land filled with wolves, snow, and gypsies. The area does not readily support human life, as seen in the final chapter when the heroes struggle most. Their progress is not hindered by Count Dracula, but against the natural impediments of the land itself. Raging rivers, packs of hungry wolves, bitter cold, and the native gypsies all serve to block the group’s progress.

This contrasting presentation of the Eastern and Western worlds creates feelings of xenophobia that are directed towards all that is not English. The novel is imperialistic insofar as it portrays Dracula as an evil, invading foreigner. He comes to London in order to possess that which is most precious to the English men - their beloved women. Through them, he intends to overtake the city by creating a new breed of vampire. In fact, Dracula is not the only manifestation of Victorian anxiety towards an unknown
Eastern world:

Also published in 1897, H.G. Wells serialized his science fiction novel The War of the Worlds, in which a superior species from Mars invades the home counties of Britain, sucking the blood out of its human victims. Like Wells’ Martians, Stoker’s Dracula is both a bloodsucker and an alien invader threatening to take over the world’s largest city, London, by accumulating an army of slaves. In Dracula … the Count embodies the charismatic power of the leader, his vampirellas the slave mentality of crowds [38].

Of course, the conclusion of the novel tells of how this foreign foe is chased back to his homeland. Van Helsing goes so far as to compare the group of vampire hunters to the Crusaders, when he says that they must travel “towards the sunset” (Stoker, Dracula 328). Dracula represents the perversion of all that is considered normal in the Western world, and as such he must be defeated.

The division of old and new in the novel points to another way of looking at the vampire. His eastern origin and primitive nature associate him with one of the Jewish stereotypes of the late nineteenth century. There are many parallels between the two. When Van Helsing speaks of the count as childlike and undeveloped, he sounds very much like the common “charge that the traditional Jew was representative of a premodern – that is, Old testament – level of primitive moral development” [39]. Dracula is indeed something foreign - he is of another time and place, posing as threat to all that is pure and English. He might easily be compared to the most prominent alien threat in Victorian England, that being the Eastern Jewish immigrant:

As a member of an assimilated “white” race already familiarly pan of European culture, Dracula can “pass”: “I am content if I am like the rest, so that no man stops if he sees me, or pause in his speaking if he hear my words, to say, ‘Ha, ha! a stranger!”’ [40].

The fact that Dracula arrives in England via a Russian ship is also suggestive, since the majority of Russian immigrants in those days were Jewish. The Count might also be compared to the mythic Wandering Jew, which appeared in many works, one being Eugene Sue’s novel The Wandering Jew. There are numerous similarities between the two. Both are deathless beings condemned to roam the earth indefinitely. They are representative of an ancient time, as they visit newer, more modem lands. It must be noted that Stoker thought highly of Sue’s novel, and he apparently hoped that Irving would undertake a dramatic performance of the work (162). There are some indications that he was somewhat concerned with the “Jewish problem.” In The Censorship of Fiction he speaks of how literature has degenerated into a corrupt art form. The language he employs might be interpreted as a very subtle expression of anti-Semitism:

Stoker defends literary censorship in terms that come as no surprise, given his readiness to suppress embarrassing passages in Whitman. While he is not explicit about the source of the threat he had most in mind, his argument is signposted with anti-semitic tags. Those who “tried to deprave where others have striven to elevate” did so out of “selfish greed.” And finally, “in the language of the pulpit they have crucified Christ afresh” [41].

Like the stereotype of the Jew, Count Dracula is associated with money. He has piles of old stored in his castle, gathering dust as centuries pass. In addition, the count drops money when Jonathan rips at his coat with a knife during their confrontation at Piccadilly. Dracula is, like the Jew, a wanderer whose clothes are stuffed with gold. The violent pursuit of the vampire does indeed reflect a sort of irrational panic or mob mentality, suggesting that Dracula might - like many Jews persecuted in Eastem Europe at the time - actually be the victim.

The figure of the vampire also brings to mind another account of an “urban night-stalking threat suffused with a violent and deviant sexuality” (164) - the notorious Jack the Ripper. The police suspected that Jack might be a Jew, protected by others of “his kind”:

The official description, of a dark figure speaking in a “foreign accent,” was apparently concocted entirely on the basis of the anti Semite assumptions of Sir Robert Anderson, his colleagues in the force, and the sensational press. A high proportion of the 130 men whom the police questioned in the case were Jews [42].

Certainly the type of horror that Dracula evokes in its readers is comparable to society’s fear of Jack the Ripper. Both are fatal strangers, indistinguishable (like the Jew) from the general public.

Chapter 4: The Vampire as “Other” in Nosferatu

Murnau transfers the same foreign attributes of Stoker’s vampire into his film by implementing certain cinematic devices and effects. In the novel, Dracula could assume the form of a mist, at times materializing out of thin air. Murnau uses dissolves in a few instances during the film in order to portray this characteristic. During his trip aboard the Demeter Orlok haunts the feverish sailor, appearing and disappearing below the deck. In another scene, Murnau shows the vampire walking (or dissolving) through the wall of his new house. Certainly the most memorable dissolve occurs in Orlok’s death scene (if We may call it “death”). When the sun rises, he glides over to the window, pauses for a second, and then dissolves into a puff of smoke. Murnau’s use of the dissolve fully demonstrates the vampire’s supernatural powers. This must have worked especially well in the 1920s, as an audience in those days would have surely been amazed by the simplest of special effects. The German director also employs a technique called “undercranking” during Hutter’s ride to the castle. By cranking the camera at a slower pace during shooting, the carriage (driven by Orlok) appears to fly along at an astounding velocity when the film is finally shown at normal speed. Murnau also uses stop-action filming (à la Georges Méliès) to show how the vampire can control inanimate objects, such as doors or the ship’s hatch. All of these effects show that Orlok is truly something not of this earth.

The terror caused by the vampire in the novel gains credibility because of Stoker’s epistolary structure. Because the story is told through a series of letters and documents, it appears much more valid. Murnau also employs this technique in his film: “The point of View is constantly changing, and [he] transfers this pivotal feature by using point-of-view (POV) shots, subjective camera, and cross-cutting sequences to construct his narrative” [43]. By putting the audience in the place of Orlok’s prey, Murnau imposes the horror of the vampire directly upon them. Such is the case when Hutter looks out his bedroom door to see the vampire lurking in the hallway; and also when Ellen sees him staring across the street from his window nearby. Here lies the superiority of the horror film over horror fiction. These shots create a much more immediate fear than anything in Stoker’s novel, since “the text [always] lies between the reader and the image and description can only unfold over time” [44].

Murnau would experience greater difficulty in transferring the dark and shadowy world of the vampire to the big screen. This created a major dilemma because filming at night was problematic at that point in film history. His solution was to use blue tinting to suggest the illusion of darkness for the night scenes, which were actually filmed during broad daylight [45]. Murnau also differentiates between the world of the West and Orlok’s “land of the phantoms” (Murnau, Nosferatu). During Hutter’s carriage ride, Murnau inserts a short section of film negative. In this way, he marks Hutter’s entrance into an alternate world - one where superstition supplants reason, where evil rules over good. Murnau includes Stoker’s theme of East versus West, though he does not give it the strength that it enjoys in the novel. Instead, Murnau concentrates on what he views to be important ideas in Dracula. He decides to develop Mina much further than Stoker does. In Nosferatu Ellen makes a choice to sacrifice herself for the sake of her husband and the town of Wisborg. Despite the fact that Stoker portrays Mina as an unusually capable woman - an independent school mistress who knows shorthand and can type - it is still the men who physically defeat the vampire. Murnau recognizes Mina’s ability, and takes the character a step further by transforming Ellen into the hero. She single-handedly defeats Orlok by embracing him until the dawn arrives.

Although Murnau transforms Ellen into a heroic vampire killer, he also plays on the sympathy that Stoker’s Mina expresses in the novel when she says:

That poor soul who has wrought all this misery is the saddest case of all. Just think what will be his joy when he too is destroyed in his worser part that his better part may have spiritual immortality. You must be pitiful to him too (Stoker, Dracula 308).

Murnau amplifies this feeling of concern, and hints at a much greater relationship between the two in the film. When Orlok first sees a picture of Ellen he is immediately interested, proclaiming that she has a “beautiful throat.” He then decides that he will buy the house next to Hutter’s, seemingly in an effort to get closer to Ellen. During Orlok’s initial attack on Hutter, Ellen works in a panic and calls out to her husband. Although they are geographically separated, Murnau uses brilliant editing to bridge the distance that lies between Ellen and Orlok. As she calls to Hutter, she is shown facing left. The vampire tums to the right as if hearing her screams, showing the strength of the connection between the two.

Murnau uses editing in another instance to create this same effect. He presents us with a shot of Ellen sitting on the beach staring across the ocean. She is surrounded by crosses that have bent in the wind, reflective of the evil wind that propels the Demeter into Wisborg. When she receives the letter announcing Thomas’ retum, she looks anything but happy. Murnau prompts us to ask ourselves why Ellen stares out to the sea when her beloved husband is returning by land. In another scene Ellen is shown sleepwalking, reaching her arms out for something - but for what? Murnau then cuts to a shot of the ship. Might Ellen be reaching out to Orlok? When Lucy (Ruth Landshoff) comes into the room to comfort her, Ellen’s words also prompt suspicion as she says, “I must go to him. He is approaching.” It isn’t clear whether it’s Hutter or Orlok that she speaks of. In another scene, Ellen is shown sitting at her needlework. She embroiders “Ich liebe dun” into the cloth - “I love you.” Again her intentions are uncertain. This might be a welcoming gift for either of the approaching men. It is entirely possible that Ellen could sympathize with the vampire. When Hutter gives Ellen a bouquet in the opening scenes, she becomes saddened because the flowers are now destroyed. She is a sensitive character who mourns even the smallest loss of life.

Murnau’s Ellen resembles Stoker’s Mina insofar as she is equally associated, indeed empowered, with knowledge:

[She] is the only character in Nosferatu to achieve full knowledge of the vampire, and significantly she acquires it through a combination of both conscious research - reading The Book of Vampires - and close attention to images of her unconsciousness [46].

Just as in the novel, she is contrasted with men who refuse to accept the actuality of their situation. Thomas dismisses the bite marks on his neck as “two mosquito bites.” In the same way, Professor Bulwer does not realize the severity of Ellen’s condition, passing it off as a “trivial blood condition.” The men are characterized by a sort of naïve repressiveness, while Ellen embraces all knowledge despite the horrors that may accompany it. Murnau subtly suggests these ideas in a typically Expressionist fashion, using symbolic physical action to reflect various character traits:

[He] continually associates [Ellen] with openings - opening her eyes, opening [The Book of Vampires], opening windows. Psychologically, these openings suggest her refusal to repress knowledge. It’s central to the plot, for instance, that only after looking out their windows to the coffins below in the street does [Ellen] decide to reread The Book of Vampires; later when she is about to open the window to invite the vampire to her side, she first pauses and looks at [Thomas] [47].

Correspondingly, Hutter is associated with repressive actions, always trying to hide the true honor of Orlok from his eyes. When he reads the book, he looks outside his bedroom door and sees the monstrous Orlok lurking outside. No sooner does he see this scene does he shut it completely from his view, immediately slamming the door closed. When the vampire enters the room, Thomas closes his eyes and then throws the bedsheet over his head for good measure. In another scene, he watches Orlok loading up a cart with coffins, preparing to leave for Wisborg. Again, the knowledge is too much for him and he must turn away and close his eyes. Stoker’s reluctance to stray from certain stereotypes (inverting a typically male heroism with a typically female passivity) is not shared by Murnau. He decided to show the men as inadequate when compared to the female hero. Traditional gender roles are ignored, and Murnau completes what Stoker was likely too anxious to do.

The German director fully develops this notion of gender inversion in his film. Harker’s passivity in Dracula is, at times, represented by an overtly feminized posture in Nosferatu [48]. After Hutter is vamped for the first time, he is shown reclining listlessly in a chair as he awakens the next moming. He appears equally feminine during the second attack. When he peers out from his room to see the oncoming vampire, he becomes limp in horror, having to lean on the door for support. Hutter is truly “un-manned,” especially when compared to Orlok’s rigidity. He retreats to his bed and hides under the covers, once again laid back in a most feminine posture. Even when his wife is about to be attacked, Thomas is asleep sprawled over a chair. Why does he not sleep along side his wife in bed? Murnau interprets Jonathan Harker as certainly the most unmanly of men.

Just as the German director takes on Stoker’s idea of gender inversion, so too does he adopt the author’s taste for sexual imagery. The penetrating nature of the vampire is reflected by its unusual appearance, one that greatly contrasts with that of Stoker’s original vampire. Indeed Orlok is a walking phallus, as his stiff, erect posture is consistent throughout. He is an “agglomeration of points” as his ears, nose, teeth, all possess a penetrating quality - even his bald head is pointed [49]. His claws grow longer as the film progresses, possibly sewing as a symbol of erection. One of the most overtly sexual images in the film occurs during the first mate’s assault on the boxes of earth below the deck of the ship. His task is interrupted by Orlok’s rigid jack-in-the box-like rise from his coffin, again suggesting the idea of erection.

Murnau uses other types of images as well, in order to further develop the notion of the vampire as something “other.” As stated earlier, distortion, chaos, and oppression are all common ideas used in German Expressionist theatre and film. Certain visual motifs commonly express these ideas. Lattices or intersecting lines were often implemented by early German filmmakers, though their significance or meaning sometimes varied. When Orlok stares at Ellen from the window of his house, he stands behind a criss-crossed window frame. This image could be interpreted in many ways. It might be an allusion to prison bars, with the implication being that the vampire is trapped - a prisoner of his own immortality. Correspondingly, his death in front of Ellen’s open window could signify his release from that prison. Ellen’s sacrifice then not only save Thomas and the people of Wisborg, but it is also an act of mercy towards the vampire’s trapped soul. Intersecting lines that run across a character’s body often indicate a division of self. In this case, the division would be between Orlok’s vampiric form and his previous human self, whatever that might have been. A different reading of this shot suggests the idea of a predatory spider in its web. This interpretation is reinforced by the vampire’s movement. He glides laterally across the screen as a spider would in its web, his hands moving over the window frame. Another shot that evokes all these very same ideas occurs on the Demeter, as the vampire is shown walking across the ship’s mast, with the ship’s riggings dominating the background. The images are ambiguous. Is the vampire the predator waiting patiently in his web? Or is he like a trapped fly, perpetually stuck in his undead state? In either case, the role of the vampire as “other” is emphasized: he is simultaneously the threatening stranger and the isolated prisoner.

Murnau’s use of Expressionist imagery continues through repeated shots of arches. By its very nature, an arch presses heavily downwards, and is a great symbol of oppression. Murnau composes many shots in such a way that arches often encircle or frame certain characters. This frequently happens to Thomas during his stay at Orlok’s castle, as his desperate situation is often reflected when he is shot inside an arch. However, this device often presents Orlok as an entrapped figure. When he enters Thomas’ room at the castle, he pauses under the arched doorway. Orlok’s eyes reflect a trance-like state, indicating that he has no more control over the situation than if he were sleepwalking. His position underneath the arch, as it does at other times in the movie, emphasizes this notion. This panicular shot also calls to mind another image, as he is boxed in as if the arch were a coffin. The many arches in the castle refer to its ghastly inhabitant, reminding the audience that he is not far away:

[Orlok’s] bald and pointed head is echoed by the Gothic arches that punctuate Murnau’s mise-en-scène: the outline of the door in Hutter’s room in the castle exactly repeats the narrow shape of [Orlok’s] skull; a severe arch with its vertex aiming at the sky marks the vampire’s entrance into Wisborg [50].

The castle is an allusion to the vampire, a constant representation of the horror that lies just off screen.

This wealth of Expressionist imagery shows that Reinhardt’s influence upon Murnau is immeasurable. The filmmaker’s creative and abundant use of shadows further illustrates a debt to the old theatrical master. One example occurs when the vampire attacks Thomas in his room. Rather than directly showing Orlok biting Thomas’ neck, we see the shadow of the vampire move upwards over his body and back down again after the bite. There are numerous reasons why Murnau might have filmed the scene in this manner. When the shadow moves up Hutter’s body, the image might represent a kiss. And when the shadow goes down on Thomas, it might very well be going down on Thomas. Murnau might be experiencing the same homosexual anxiety over showing the Harker vampire embrace that Stoker experienced when writing the novel. The German director had been known for “homosexual tendencies,” so filming this encounter with shadows achieves the comfortable distancing that Murnau might have wanted. Widespread ignorance and intolerance of gays had been encouraged by “paragraph 175 of the pre–1918 German Penal Code [which lent] itself to all the horrors of blackmail.” As a result Murnau’s films “bear the impress of his inner complexity, of the struggle he waged within himself against a world in which he remained despairingly alien” [51]. Like the vampire, he is an outsider – a figure who does not feel like he belongs in any society. But towards the end of his life, Murnau would escape to the South Seas. There he would find a happier existence, living peacefully among the native inhabitants of the islands.

Murnau’s use of shadows also implies the theme of the double, or an alternate self (110). Again, this suggests that it is a separate self that takes over Orlok’s being during the attacks. Of course, the most dazzling use of shadow occurs during the film’s climax as Orlok’s hideous, distorted shadow climbs the stairs to Ellen’s room. The vampire’s ascension of the stairs could symbolize his upcoming deliverance from his horrible curse. This interpretation arises out of the common usage of stairs in early German cinema to signify a transition of some sort (121). When Orlok finally reaches the bedroom, we see Ellen retreating onto the bed (how convenient!) and reclining in horror of the monstrosity before her. Once more Murnau’s shadow play is wonderful, as the shadow of the Count’s hand moves up over Ellen’s hean, and clutches it violently, making her body writhe in agony - or possibly, in ecstasy.

All of these shadow scenes demonstrate that Murnau knew, or even discovered, a fundamental principle of the horror genre, one that remains a staple in today’s filmmaking: By hinting at an unseen, off-screen presence, one can manipulate the imagination of the audience to evoke unusually intense fear. This is often more effective than directly showing the cause. This idea has remained popular ever since - from the haunting whistle of the child murderer in Fritz Lang’s M (1931), to the deafening drone of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1982), to the always unseen witch of The Blair Witch Project (1999). Murnau’s employment of shadows reinforces the notion of the vampire as “other” by demonstrating the theme of the double, and by illustrating his association with a darker, scarier, and unseen other world. Orlok is indeed “a repulsive figure in a beautiful film” making him seems that much more of an outsider in Nosferatu (Freeman 273).


In summary, we have seen how Stoker gives the vampire new life in Dracula, taking from literature and folklore, as well as pans of his own life. Similarly, Murnau borrows Stoker’s vampire story and creates a new work - one that, at times, depends heavily on its predecessor, while also possessing its own unique and beautiful qualities.

Murnau successfully transfers many aspects of Stoker’s novel to film: the vampire’s supernatural capabilities, and the darkness of his otherworld; the theme of sexual ambiguity, and the use of imagery to illustrate that ambiguity; various points of view, which provide different accounts of the invading monster; the absence of the vampire from view, and the evocation of fear due to an unknown off-stage presence. However, Stoker’s reluctance to pursue certain avenues when writing Dracula is not shared by Murnau, as he brings Stoker’s anxieties out of the closet (so to speak) and displays them on the big screen for all to see. Orlok is still a horrifying, repulsive figure, but the development of sympathy towards him is greater in the film than in the novel, making him appear a little less than “other.”

Both Stoker’s Dracula and Murnau’s Nosferatu mark the beginning of a century of vampire novels and films. When discussing this ever-growing genre, neither should be overlooked – Stoker is certainly a master storyteller, while Murnau is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

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  2. Belford, p.20.  ↩

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  5. Miller, p.14.  ↩

  6. Miller, p. 17.  ↩

  7. Quoted in Miller, p. 13  ↩

  8. Miller p. 14  ↩

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  15. Quoted in Eisner, Murnau, 72.  ↩

  16. Quoted in Eisner, Murnau, 72.  ↩

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  24. Quoted in Skal, Hollywood, p.56.  ↩

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  32. Quoted in Malchow, p.134.  ↩

  33. Quoted in Malchow, p.135.  ↩

  34. Quoted in Malchow, p.135.  ↩

  35. Stoker, Reminiscences 2;94  ↩

  36. Quoted in Belford, p.312.  ↩

  37. Malchow, p.136.  ↩

  38. Ellmann, Maud. Preface in Bram Stoker, Dracula. 1897. New York: Oxford University
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  39. Malchow, p.161.  ↩

  40. Malchow, p.162.  ↩

  41. Malchow, p.165.  ↩

  42. Quoted in Malchow, p.164.  ↩

  43. Waltje, Jorg. “Filming Dracula – Vampires, Genre, and Cinematography.” Journal of Dracula Studies 2 (2000); 24–33. p. 25  ↩

  44. Waltje, p.26.  ↩

  45. Skal, Hollywood, p.48.  ↩

  46. Brennan, Matthew C. “Repression, Knowledge, and Saving Souls – The Role of the ‘New Woman’ in Stoker’s Dracula and Murnau’s Nosferatu.” Studies in the Humanities 19.1 (1992); 1–10. p.5.  ↩

  47. Brennan, p.6.  ↩

  48. Bergstrom, Janet. “Sexuality at a Loss – The Films of F.W. Murnau.” Poetics Today 6 (1985) 185–203. p.197.  ↩

  49. Skall, Hollywood, 54.  ↩

  50. Vacche, p.179  ↩

  51. Eisner, Lotte. The Haunted Screen. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1969. p.98  ↩