Nosferatu’s Centennial

One of my blog readers who lives in the shadows and doesn’t leave comments in posts recently pointed out that this year is the centennial of F.W. Murnau’s film Nosferatu. This is the earliest cinematic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Notably it was not a sanctioned adaptation and Florence Stoker sued Murnau. All prints of the film were ordered destroyed. What we have of the film today are prints assembled from bits and pieces that survived in personal collections.

Nosferatu

I first became aware of Nosferatu around 1983 when I watched Werner Herzog’s remake of the film starring Klaus Kinski. I was captivated from the opening credits of that film, which showed rows of mummified bodies. The implication is that you’re seeing Dracula’s victims over the years. Even though Dracula drinks blood in the film, the real horror comes because he brings the plague with him, which kills far more people than he does alone. One of the things I really loved in Herzog’s adaptation is the dark, creepy ending.

I loved Herzog’s remake so much, I wanted a copy on home video almost from the moment I could afford my own home video player. I married in 1990 and my wife had not seen the film, and I wanted to show it to her. I looked, but soon discovered that Herzog’s remake had not been released in the United States. So, we decided to rent the original. By the 1990s, many prints of the 1922 Nosferatu were available. It wasn’t officially in the public domain, but it was treated as a public domain property. These were often poor quality prints with a public domain music track of some form in the background. Versions like this are still widely available both on video and on websites like YouTube. Despite the poor transfer, Murnau’s cinematography was still compelling. I loved his used of light and shadow. I enjoyed the special effects such as Count Orlock rising from his crypt or the tarp on the ghost ship sliding back and the hatch lifting on its own.

When I watched the original, I had been surprised that Murnau changed the character names. Dracula became Orlock, Mina Harker became Ellen Hutter, Renfield became Knock, and so forth. I’ve heard it suggested this was done to disguise that Nosferatu was an adaptation of Dracula, but it doesn’t seem to make sense, since all versions of the 1922 Nosferatu I’ve seen have an early title card indicating it’s based on Dracula. I’ve also seen it suggested that Murnau simply made the names more Germanic to match the German setting of his film, which seems more likely. Of note, Herzog’s 1979 remake doesn’t change the names from the novel.

Since that early print, I have found DVD prints where a serious effort is made to restore the 1922 original to the best possible quality. I have the version from Germany’s Kino Lorber, which restores the tints to the original film and made a serious effort at restoring the film. It is lovely to look at and, for the most part, the cinematography still holds up today. There are points where the acting is very broad, as was the case in many early, silent films, but there are also really effective moments. I find it striking in most scenes with Count Orlock, the other actors look genuinely afraid or worried. So, if you’re going to celebrate the centennial of this classic film, I do recommend finding the best possible copy you can.

Both the 1922 original and the 1979 remake influenced the look of the vampire super soldiers who appear in Vampires of the Scarlet Order and will also appear in the sequel that I’m currently plotting. You can explore the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

Anno Dracula – The Comic!

Soon after reading Kim Newman’s novel, Anno Dracula, I took a closer look at the other books he’s written in this universe. As it turns out, the second story in chronological order was told over the course of a five-issue comic book series from Titan Comics. The five issues have since been collected into a single graphic novel, Anno Dracula -1895: Seven Days in Mayhem. The comic series, released in 2017, was written by Newman and features art by Paul McCaffrey.

The vampire Jane considers Kim Newman’s vampires from Anno Dracula

The comic series is set seven years after the novel. Dracula is still in power, but he’s under siege. European powers have united to overthrow him and groups within the British Empire comprised of both humans and vampires are working to establish a government more to their liking. Still, it’s the tenth anniversary of Dracula’s rise to power and he plans to throw a celebration. Our story’s principal characters are Kate Reed, a vampire journalist who belongs to a group of anarchists bound and determined to disrupt the ten-year celebration, and Penelope Churchward, a vampire socialite who has been placed in charge of the ten-year celebration. Both Kate and Penelope were secondary characters in the original novel.

In the background lurk such notable characters as Graf Orlock, in charge of the Tower of London, where the ten-year festivities will conclude, and Fu Manchu who is playing all sides against each other in hopes to make the biggest profit. I was delighted to see a cameo by Mack the Knife and a brief mention of Mycroft Holmes, who played a major role in the novel. There’s even a sly reference to problematic “sparkling vampires.” Perhaps my favorite moment was the appearance of a poem that might have been written by William McGonagall on the occasion of ten years of rule by Dracula. I was first introduced to McGonagall’s poetry at TusCon a few years ago when Laurence Hammer brought a collection of his poems to share. McGonagall was widely recognized as a terrible poet who had no recognition of his peers’ opinion of his work. Follow the link if you wish to read his poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster.”

Paul McCaffrey’s artwork in this comic series is first rate. I loved his portrayals of Newman’s original characters, fictional characters from other worlds, and historical figures. Overall, Newman’s script is well done. I did find some of the narration hard to read because it was in a very small font size. I have to admit, this is one reason why I’ve come to appreciate digital comics. Of course, a real challenge of comics is to say as much as possible in as few words as possible. For the most part, I think Newman succeeded at that, but I did wonder if some of the narrations could have been trimmed. I also wondered if using one larger point size on the narration would have helped.

As with Anno Dracula, I highly recommend this comic to fans of the genre. Like Kim Newman, I enjoy playing with vampire tropes and lore in my stories. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m starting work on a third Scarlet Order novel and hoping to do at least one more Scarlet Order comic. You can learn about the books at http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order. If you’d like to get some sneak peeks at the new book as it develops, or if you just like this blog and appreciate its ad-free experience, please consider supporting my Patreon at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers