Ambition, revenge, and early death - the story behind Murnau's gothic masterpiece "Nosferatu" is almost as darkly compelling as the film itself.
In 1921, director FW Murnau founded the company Prana-Film to produce a series of horror films. Inspired by both the developing artistic and commercial successes of post-war German cinema - much of which was influenced by Expressionism - and the harsh economic reality of spiralling inflation, Prana-Film was an attempt to grab the attention of the prestigious and lucrative export market.
In reality however, Prana-Film only produced one film - "Nosferatu" - before the company went bankrupt. Intended as a straightforward adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula", Murnau was denied the rights by Stoker's estate. Frustrated but unperturbed he went ahead with the film by changing details such as names and locations. Dracula became Count Orlok, Jonathan Harker became Hutter, and the vampire stalked Bremen rather than London.
Stoker's widow, Florence, sued. But by the time the case reached court Murnau's rampant spending on publicity for Nosferatu had bankrupt Prana-Film. Despite Murnau's inability to pay she continued the case, and in July 1925 a German Court ordered all prints of the film to be burnt.
Miraculously some copies did survive and although she did prevent a London premiere in 1925, the film proved impossible to suppress and was released in the United States during 1929. But it was a bittersweet victory for Murnau. Although Nosferatu made him money, it was not until long after his premature death in 1943 that it was appreciated as an artistic masterpiece.
Read a review of "Nosferatu".
Read a review of Werner Herzog's re-make.
"The Cinema Book", Pam Cook, Mieke Bernink (eds), BFI Publishing, 1999, ISBN 0 8517 0726 2
"Empire" Horror Special, October 2000.
"Nosferatu", A Symphony of Terror has plenty of useful material about the film.
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