Nosferatu was based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic Horror novel, Dracula. More accurately, there are aspects of the story that were followed very closely and there are elements pulled out of left field because the production company was unable to gain rights from Stoker’s heirs. Spoiler Alert! The main differences between the novel and movie were Van Helsing’s complete lack of involvement and the resolution. Instead of a violent confrontation, the heroine of the movie sacrifices herself to save the townspeople. By simply willingly offering her blood throughout an entire night, the vampire perishes with the rising sun. This is critical to point out because it was truly a sacrifice for the young woman. Count Orlok was a hideous monster with a deformed head, giant ears, pointy teeth, crazy eyes, and giant hands.
There is an ongoing trend in the fictional world of vampires. Some elements stay the same: the thirst for blood, eternal life, and inhuman strength. What has changed are the degrees of humanity and physical desirability. Today’s vampires are broody, gorgeous, and capable of complex emotions, particularly love. Many are even able to abstain or minimize their human consumption for the good of those around them. At times it goes too far (Sparkles? Really?), but I understand the impulse to soften the monster. It’s like finally being able to date the bad boy who really does have a sensitive side just for you.
Vampires branched out of the horror genre in film dating back to at least the 1960’s. Now it is rare to watch a film or read a book with vampires who are truly bloodthirsty and lacking all humanity. Emotional vulnerability gives us the opportunity to cheer for the bad guy and hope he can overpower his demons and not eat his girlfriend, but sometimes it gets a little boring. (For those of you who have watched The Vampire Diaries, it’s like watching Damon go from moody psychopath to pining and lovestruck. He’s still gorgeous, but lacking the edge that had me binge watching the series in the first place.)
The beautiful vampire was not at all how the legend began. Whether you look to the Norse draugr, Western European revenants, wendigo/wechuge of North America, or the vampires of Romani/Romanian/Slavic origin, the creature was a terrifying fiend who consumed the blood and/or flesh of its family and neighbors. Superstition fed into mass hysteria that led to executions and strange burial measures. Infants were murdered because they were unlucky enough to be born with a defect or a red caul. Nosferatu captures the traditional image of the vampire and reminds us of where it all began.
What do you think of today’s vampires?
Author’s Note: The decision to watch Nosferatu should be accompanied by adjusted expectations. Switching over to a black and white film with written blocks of dialogue was a challenge for the first five to ten minutes. The dramatic character makeup and exaggerated pantomimes kept me suitably entertained until it dawned on me that the movie was very advanced for 1922 technology. Shadows appeared from nowhere and Count Orlok faded in and out of scenes.