Right. I’ve thought about this for two weeks now. Well, I’ve been asked to do this for months, but have violently said no. But over the past two weeks, I’ve really been thinking about it.
You see, a lot has gone on behind the scenes here at 411. Nothing bad. But just shit that reminds me that I’ve done a VERY good job of putting up a wall between my two distinct audiences that I write for. The first is of course the 411mania readers who most only know me as the prick of a video game writer. And the second is an audience I’ve purposely neglected for some time but slowly but surely they’re asking me to come back to doing what I do even better than writing about games and performing verbal fellatio on Atlus and SNK.
When I started here, I really tried to keep Alex Lucard’s personal and private self out of Retrograding, but due to my interesting relationship with Konami, it became hard for me not to make references to it to see if they were paying attention.
And they were. But oddly enough, so were a very infinitesimal amount of 411mania readers who happened to cross over their brand of steroid fillet ballet for man love with obscure knowledge of something that existed before 411mania took off as a major pop culture web page, and also disappeared at the height of it’s popularity thanks to burnout on my part.
But then maybe that’s why it’s stayed in so many people’s heads for so long instead of disappearing. That or the endorsements by people infinitely more famous than me, leaving me as some mysterious cult writer that kinda flaked out on his chosen audience.
But slowly but surely you guys put two and two together and realized this Alexander Lucard is the same Alexander Lucard. The only Alexander Lucard. And of course I helped a bit by making references to White wolf and my Pokemon addiction. And having Justin Achilli write into my mailbag. And a host of other things I’ve mentioned to 411staff members only that some of you picked up and then started filling my inbox with letters like,
“Why the f*ck aren’t you doing the Vampire Classifieds Newsletter anymore?”
“Why are you writing about Video Games instead of folklore?”
“What’s the difference between the Japanese take on the Cthulhu Mythos and the original Western style?”
“Are you the REAL Alexander Lucard? Because if you’re not, I’m warning you right now to drop the name, because his lawyers are sharks and I’ll get his fans to flood your inbox with spam?”
“Are you really Dracula pretending to be a human writing about video games because writing about the history of the Undead was too close to a breach of the Masquerade?”
Seriously. ALL those are quotes from letters I’ve gotten since writing Retrograding. I took a one year break from writing anything on the net. I stopped the VC in 2001 and started Retrograding in December 2002. And since Day one, I’ve gotten at least one letter a day asking about the VC. An audience of professors, doctors, professional Authors that make more money in a day than I do in a year, Goths, self-proclaimed vampires, and teachers all of a sudden noticing their golden boy is writing about electronic based mind rotting entertainment on a pop culture site?
But guess what? I happen to like it here. I like video games! I got burned out with talking about vampires and zombies and mummies all the time. Even my published fiction is comedy-horror! I needed a break. And found it here.
Of course it was a slow build. Until the Cthulhu In video gaming column. That was a dead giveaway. And the more recent ‘Classical Literature made into Video Games’ satire blew the lid off my ‘hiding out’ here at 411mania. It got passed around on a few dozen college mailing lists and people I hadn’t heard from for over a year were back asking for me to write non fiction shit about vampires. Vampire vampires vampires. Aswang. Kappa. Dhampirs. Lillin. People wanted their fix from the guy who in 1998 at the age of 21 was listed one of the five best folklorists in this specific subject (aka vampirologists) and had a web page generating 100,000 unique hits a day and was sponsored by, I shit you not, DISNEY. You imagine that pressure on a College sophomore and you can imagine why I burned out. But for some reason, NO ONE READING ME UNDERSTOOD.
But as the emails have been building up and Widro making an announcement soon about 411 which may give the VC a new permanent home where all I have to do is write and not maintain a web page anymore, well consider this a test to see if you f*ckers really truly want Alex to go back to being ‘legit’ and writing non-fiction essays complete with footnotes and works cited pages. Or if the whiny pack asking me to start this up are just like the people who begged for Ikaruga to come to America, and the proceeding to shit down Atari’s throat.
Yeah, I’m pissed and bitter. But I wanted to do this for three reasons. The first is that I do miss writing it. Before I was out of college, I was on TV from channels ranging from MSNBC to C-Span, and having my work translated into over a dozen languages. I don’t miss the fame at all. But I do miss knowing that damn near every horror writer from Anne Rice to Katherine Ramsland to Stephen King praised my work. I miss being a writer for WRITERS. For scholars. And for f*cked up idiots who think vampires all speak in Byronic-esque prose. The second reason is I want to see if you people asking for the VC back are serious, and if you are, it’s only fair I give you something back for all the love and support and mail you gave me for the three years I did it. And the third quite frankly, is because I know members of the 411 staff have asked to see my stuff. I’m rather aloof, arrogant, and downright pretentiously rude to them sometimes. But it’s because I just want to be left to write, and often I can come across as just not liking them. So the third and final reason is simply to be nice and open up a bit to the non Kliq members, and even let those that I do consider my friends here in the games section to see the me that exists besides the HBK persona. So here you go readers; a taste of what brought Alex to the dance, and what made him a raging egotist.
Neither of these essays were ever in a VC issue before. The first is the essay I wrote that got me accepted into Princeton’s PHD English program. Which I then turned down. The second was written for Regal Cinemas to go with the theatre release of ‘Shadow of the Vampire’ and was probably the last real thing I wrote having to do with undead folklore other than the Atlus/Game Freak/White Wolf/Chaosium crossover I did. But then, only the hardest core of any of those companies knows what I’m talking about there…
Anyway enjoy. I’m expecting rampart amounts of hate mail for Retrograding readers, and insane jiz covered letters from vampire fans.
Behind the Scenes of Dracula
Although it is well known that Stoker was almost anal-retentive in the way he tried to preserve folklore and myths in his stories (Wolfe, xiii; Florescu, p.7), no author can write a tale without adding his emotions or personal outlook of a myth. As well, some of the texts Stoker used as his folkloric sources contained incorrect data. As such, even though Stoker tried to make his tale as authentic to the Old World Tales as possible, Dracula
is an amalgamation of Folklore, history, and Stoker’s own personal touches. As such we will take a look at how Stoker’s attempt to transform a Wallachian Prince into the Lord of the Undead, and how he both succeeded, added some personal touches, and made some foul-ups along the way.
The biggest mistake in the text comes when Van Helsing says, “The Nosferatu do not die like the bee when he stung once (p.287).” Van Helsing uses Nosferatu as a synonym for Vampire. However, Nosferatu actually means “Plague of Rats.” It is a Slavonic word derived from the Greek word, “Nosophoros,” which means: Plague carrier. Romanians use the word Nosferatu in conjunction with vampires, because Old World vampires were believed to be the cause of plagues like tuberculosis and the Black Plague. However, Stoker used this erroneous information only because of one of his folkloric sources, Emily Gerard’s travelogue entitled, The Land Beyond the Forest (1885). Gerard’s book captures the feel and look of Transylvania/Wallachia/Romania very well, but Emily did not speak the language well and as such assumed Nosferatu and vampire were interchangeable words. In her text she writes, “More decidedly is the Nosferatu, or Vampire, in which every Roumanian peasant believes as firmly as he does in heaven or hell…even a flawless pedigree will not insure any one against the intrusion of a vampire into their family vault, since every person killed by a Nosferatu becomes likewise a vampire after death…(p. 185-186).” Because Stoker was determined to add every possible folkloric reference he could find to his text, he accidentally perpetuated a mistake that continues in the Western World to this day, as we see in films, books and even role-playing games. However, if you go to Romania, or any Eastern European country. the two words are still exclusive. The true Slavonic word for vampire remains “Stirgoi.”
One of the most overlooked and important details about Dracula is that Stoker did expressly plan for his vampire to be Vlad the Impaler himself. However, when Stoker set out to right his vampire tale, he had no knowledge of Vlad. The Book was going to be called, The Un-Dead until the day he ran across a set of old books in the British Museum Reading Room (Florescu, 150). Stoker become fascinated with The Impaler Prince, and quickly gathered all the information he could find on Vlad. The sources ranged from texts written during Vlad’s life, like The Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia, written by the poet laureate Michel Beheim in 1463 for the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, to speaking with actual well-known experts on the leaders of Western Europe, such as Arminus Vambery (Florescu p. 7; Wolfe; P.291), who as thanks, was placed into Stoker’s novel as an ally of Van Helsing. Stoker’s own letters and journals that he made over the seven years it took to write Dracula are now housed in the Rosenbach Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I myself have been lucky enough to read through them. In one journal entry Stoker writes how he came across a book by William Wilkinson which he checked out of the Whitby Public Lending Library. In fact, Stoker even recorded the call numbers of this book and others he checked out about Vlad (Florescu, 148.)! Within Wilkinson’s book, Stoker found information about Vlad’s betrayal by the boyars and his brother Radu. Stoker notes how important details like this are, so he can place them in the Count’s life. And so Stoker does at the beginning of Chapter 3 when he has the Count say, “Who was it but one of my own race who at Voivode crossed that Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground? This was a Dracula indeed! Woe was it that his own unworthy brother, when he had fallen, sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery upon them (p. 41)” Dracula goes on ranting about the greatness of this Dracula for another page or so. But unbeknownst to the casual reader, or to Harker, the Count is actually speaking about himself, but must refer to himself as a separate person, so as not to reveal his true nature to Harker. Thus Stoker has managed to give Vlad real immortality, by transforming him into the Undead Count that shall never be forgotten by the race of man.
Yet, Dracula/Vlad is not the only real life person carried over into this novel. Parts of Dracula actually tell the history of Bram Stoker. You see, many of the characters in the book are based on real people Stoker knew or was fascinated by. Obviously we have the Count and Vlad, but every main male character has a real life counterpart. Harker’s real life counterpart is scene designer Joseph Harker (1855-1920) who Leonard Wolfe tells us was the scene designer or the Lyceum Theatre where Stoker worked (p.1). As well, Stoker mentions the real Harker in is book, Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving. In this biography/memoirs, Stoker mentions Harker only is passing by saying he was a great painter and did many of the sets of Shakespeare plays at the Lyceum (p.110, 156). Quincey Morris was a very important character to Stoker. He was one of the few Americanophilles in England in the 19th century. He was good friends with Walt Whitman and Mark Twain whose work he defended across the Atlantic to his fellow Europeans (Wolfe, p.78). Stoker published a pamphlet entitled, “A Glimpse of America,” which he called America, “a nation not merely like ourselves—the same in blood, religion, and social ideas, with an almost identical common law, and with whom our manifold interests are not only vast, but almost vital (Wolfe, p.78).” Quincey was added to Dracula to basically spite the Anti-American sentiment that was all around him. Quincey was based on Joaquin Miller, an American frontier poet who was writing the same time as Stoker. Miler moved to England where he was renowned for his rustic cowboy look and his outfits. Morris reputedly talks similar to how Miller spoke. As well, Stoker based Quincy on John (not David) Bowie. Stoker has him not only wield the knife that bears Bowie’s name, but he too dies of knife wounds while fighting off Mexican soldiers at the Alamo. Stoker changed his death at the hands of one “foreign enemy” to that of Dracula’s gypsies. Finally, the most interesting character is that of Abraham Van Helsing. Mina describes the good doctor as being,
“A man of medium height, strongly built, with his shoulders set back over a broad, deep chest and a neck well balanced on the truck as the head is on the neck -the head is noble, well-sized, broad and large behind the ears; big, bushy eyebrows. The forehead is broad and fine, rising at first almost straight and then sloping back above two bumps or ridges wide apart; such a forehead that the reddish hair cannot possibly tumble over it, but falls naturally back and to the sides. Big, dark blue eyes are set widely apart, and are quick and tender or stern with the man’s moods. (p. 226-227).”
Why is this important? Because it is the very description of Abraham Stoker himself! Stoker gives the character his first name, and like Stoker, Van Helsing has archaic knowledge and insights into both the realms of the Vampire and Tepes himself. As well, through Stokers letters to friends and families and diary entries we are given subtle hints that he is playing the part of Van Helsing in his novel. Many of his friends and heroes are transformed into characters in his novel, why not the author himself? Many other authors have picked up on this idea, from Leonard Wolfe (p.148), to J. Gordon Melton (653), to even Famous Dracula Scholars Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally (p.147-148). So now, not only has Vlad the Impaler achieved immortality through this classic novel, but many of Barm’s friends live on as well.
Another important piece of folklore that Stoker included that the Western word has forgotten is that of the Blue Flame and Walpurgis Nacht. In the beginning of Stoker’s novel we see comments about St. George’s Day (Western name for Walpurgis Nacht) and during Harker’s ride on the coach, the blue flames are encountered (p. 17 and p. 29). Walpurgis Nacht, for Eastern Europe is quite simply, the most Evil Day of the year. Montague Summers comments, “Upon the eve of the saint, the powers of vampires, witches and every evil thing is at its height. (p. 313).” Stoker has a woman warn Harker about this evil night when she says, “It is the eve of St. George’s Day. Do you not know that to-night, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway (p. 7-8)?” And the young lady is right. On this day, Vampires can not be killed…by ANY means. Stoker found this information on many sources, chief probably being Gerard’s text again especially because she ties the legend of Walpurgis Nacht together with the legend of the blue flames. She writes, “For in this night (so say the legends) all these treasures begin to burn, or, ‘to bloom’ in the bosom of the earth, and the light they give forth, described as a bluish flame, serves to guide favored mortals to their place of concealment (p.230).” But the blue flame has appeared in other novels and on days other than May the 5th. Ann Radcliff and “Monk” Lewis have incorporated the blue flame into their novels as well (wolfe, p.29). But for Eastern Europeans, May the 5th is a very important day. After all one may find great riches, or one may find their death at the hands of the undead. Knowing this now, it is no wonder the peasants tried to prevent Harker from travelling to the castle of Dracula.
Stoker added his own little pieces to the vampire mythos as well. Most notable of these is the vampire bat. The vampire bat was first found by Spanish conquistadors in Mexico and South America in 1760 (Melton, p. 41; Abrams, p. 55). As they were not native to Europe, before this discovery it would be hard to find a reason to link the un-dead to our only flying mammal. However, after this discovery, bats became a symbol for the undead in the mid 18th century. The even appeared on the cover of Varney the Vampire, a popular “Penny Dreadful” in England. Yet Stoker was the first to make the logical conclusion that perhaps vampires could both control and transform into a bat. This idea caught on like wildfire amongst vampire fans and writers and has never left the public consciousness about vampires since.
Although this is just a light dabbling into the folklore and hidden secrets that Bram threw into his novel, we can see how rich this text is in regards the old legends of the vampire. Many of the legends Western society was not aware of, and has since forgotten remain alive in this book. Stoker felt it was exceedingly important to make sure the old tales stayed alive, and that every facet of the tales were necessary to create vivid picture of the count, the life and powers of the Un-dead and the land which he hailed from. Because of the seven years of research and care Stoker put into this novel, he has created one of the most influential books in literary history, as well as one of the most famous. Yet if one tries hard enough, it is obvious that Stoker wrote Dracula on many levels. It is much like reading Gulliver’s Travels; once you know the hidden commentary placed into the novel, it reads as a very different tale indeed.
Works Cited for Monsters Paper
Florescu, Radu & Raymond T. McNally. In Search Of Dracula. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.
Gerard, Emily. The Land Beyond The Forest. New York, NY: Harper and Bros., 1888.
Marigny, Jean. Vampires: Restless Creatures of the Night. London, England: Harry N. Abrams, 1994.
Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1994.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London, Jarrold, 1966.
Stoker, Bram. Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving. 2 vols. New York: The MacMillan Co., 1906.
Summers, Montague. The Vampire: His Kith and Kin. Rpr. New Hyde Park: New York University Books, 1960.
Summers, Monatgue. The Vampire in Europe. Rpr. New Hyde Park: New York Univeristy Books, 1961.
Wolfe, Leonard, ed. The Essential Dracula: The Definitive Annotated Edition of Bram Stoker’s Classic Novel. Middlesex, England: Byron Preiss, 1975.
Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of the Undead?
Seventy-Nine years ago came the film that forever changed the legend of the vampire. Many know this film as “Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens,” or simply “Nosferatu.” It is hard to believe that any one work of art could permanently transform a legend that is built into our collective unconsciousness, one that is older than any current religion practiced today. But such is the power of this silent German film. And with the release of “Shadow of The Vampire,” what better way to celebrate than by jumping in Mr. Peabody’s wayback machine and looking at the film that inspired not only the newest of all vampire pictures, but also every vampire film ever made.
Many of you who have read my writing before knows that there is no faster way to watch me convulse in a rather unflattering manner than to misuse the word “Nosferatu.” That’s right. Nosferatu never has and never will mean vampire. Use the word in Eastern Europe for vampire and you may get an odd look. You see, Nosferatu actually is a Slavonic word that roughly means, “Plague of Rats.” It is derived from the Greek word “nosophoros,” which means “plague carrier.” So if you go to Romania and ask them to show you the home of the nearest Nosferatu…well, I’d be more worried about rabies and Black Death. And in case you are wondering the words for “vampire” in Romania are “Strigoi,” and Vukodlak, although the latter is more Croatian.
So how did this word erroneously become synonymous with everyone’s favorite undead? Well, it goes back to simple misunderstanding. Remember that folklore vampires were not the well-dressed and incredibly seductive creatures we have today. Less than 200 years ago, they were still rotten, unclean, ravagers of humanity bringing pestilence and grief to all those who encountered them. The romance just isn’t there where Klaus the local butcher rises from the dead and tears your throat out to sate his all-encompassing hunger, no? Because vampires and plagues were so interrelated, people foreign to Eastern European countries assumed the words were interchangeable.
Then came the first of three major mistakes that would forever associate this word with Vampires. The first was by Emily Gerard in 1885. Her travelogue, “Land Beyond the Forest,” was the same book that Bram Stoker used to help write the descriptions of Transylvania. “More decidedly Evil is the nosferatu, or vampire, in which every Roumanian peasant believes in as he does in Heaven or Hell.” It was from the sentence that Stoker would pen a very well known line by Abraham Van Helsing in his own book. “The Nosferatu do not die like the bee when he stings once. He is only stronger, and being stronger, has yet more power to work evil.” Needless to say this was mistake #2. And Stoker’s book, being the Bible to all Vampire fans whether they want to admit it or not, forever immortalized not just his famous Count, but this very word.
And mistake #3? Well, it was actually an attempt at using the word correctly. And it was by the very film we speak of today. Freidrich Murnau and Henrik Galeen were respectfully, the director and writer of this silent masterpiece. Mr. Galeen freely plagiarized Stoker’s book. He used the phrase Nosferatu for two reasons. One; because it was associated with vampires now, and two; because he knew the true meaning of the word. For those that have not seen the original film, Count Orlock (the vampire in “Nosferatu”), was a folkloric vampire who brought the black plague to Bremen, Germany via his arms of unclean rats. Plague of rats? Nosferatu! MY GOD! The word’s correct definition was used. But here’s where irony kicks in. Nearly everyone who sees the film walks away thinking “Nosferatu” means “Vampire.” They don’t explain the title as Galeen wrongfully gives humanity too much credit for their intelligence. After all, the average film watcher thought, “Hmmm. A vampire movie. Wonder what the title means? I know! Vampire. Hey, there’s a lot of rats in this film.” Those that read Stoker’s book first went in already misled, and those that read it after the film joined the same mindset. And this is where we are today. It’s as if a Ukrainian came to America, heard the word “John” a lot, and assumed it was English for Human. Then all of Russia starts teaching their students that John equals Human. Imagine the confusion. However Nosferatu is now irrevocably linked in the English language to vampires, with every vampire writer, role playing game company (Damn you, White Wolf!), and movie unaware of this trivial little error. Of course, by your reading this essay, you give me full legal right to beat you to death with various types of flounder if you misuse it ever again.
But besides this word, what else did the film do to change the vampire forever? Well, two things. One was that the undead reclaimed their shadow. Previously, a way to tell if someone was a vampire was by his or her lack of shadow and/or reflection. Both shadow and reflections were indications of a soul, and everyone in your local hamlet knew that vampires had no souls. They were mere animated corpses. But in order for Murnau to do his usual Expressionist film work, the vampire regained his shadow. And anyone who has ever seen the film would agree that a good part of Count Orlock’s creep factor comes from the long creeping shadows slowly and silently moving through the night. But the last change had even more of an effect of the vampire than gaining a new synonym. Through this film, the vampire gained his most famous weakness of all: SUNLIGHT.
That’s right. Before 1922, sunlight was like bayou mosquitoes. Sure, the Undead were sometimes weakened by sunlight, or slept during the day, but this was the film where they not only had to start paying attention to Daylight Saving’s Time, but vampires also would disintegrate when the dawn came unless snug in their resting place. Even Stoker’s Count and Le Fanu’s Carmilla had no problem with sunlight. Dracula was seen walking around in England by Harker soon after he and Mina are married. Carmilla spends days talking to the narrator about everything from botany to death. So where did Galeen get this idea? As mentioned earlier, “Nosferatu” is a loose plagiarism of Stoker’s book. So the idea had to have come from there. However, the only spot it is even remotely hinted at that Dracula may be hurt by sunlight is when Harker writes, “I have not yet seen the Count in the daylight. Can it be that he sleeps when others wake that he may be awake whilst they sleep?” Of course, this just implies predatory nature, not a need for Sunblock 666. Regardless of the reason, sunlight is the eventual killer of Count Orlock. But again, Orlock’s death seen is as memorable as the previously mentioned shadow scenes, so lets view the change as a modernization of the legend or artistic license, instead of nitpicking about changing a millennia old legend.
The most notable aspect of this film is its impact on the vampire as a whole. Aside from Orlock’s gruesome visage, what we know consider to be a vampire springs from this film. However, until 1984, it was believed that Bram Stoker’s own widow, Florence, destroyed all the original copies of this film. You see, there was a little matter of copyright infringement. And the fact that Florence Stoker was a notorious crank. She was never the same after that fling with Oscar Wilde… Regardless, Stoker sued the company Murnau worked for, and in order to avoid the astronomical costs, Prana films declared bankruptcy. Of course, the English judge ruled they still had to make restitution and ordered all copies of the film destroyed and the negatives burned. Guess they were still a mite touchy over that WWI mishap.
However, much to Stoker’s chagrin and to filmgoers around the world’s delight, copies of the film kept popping up. Just a year after the film’s burning, the Dutch-American film society contacted her about gaining support for their showing of “Nosferatu.” She refused, and they showed it anyways and also refused to say where they had obtained their copy. To make things worse for Stoker’s widow, Universal Pictures gave permission for “Nosferatu” to be shown again after they had received film rights to the Novel. This permission was quickly retracted after Florence threatened to null the contract between her and the American film company. And imagine if she had! No Bela Lugosi film. He would’ve stayed on Broadway. Finally in 1929, the Film Society was forced to turn over the last known copy of the film and it too was destroyed. A year later (running theme here folks), an edited version of the film popped up. The names on the credits were changed, sound was added, and even two new scenes and a new character were added. Major splicing had occurred. The film was called, “Die Zwolfte Stunde,” and little more is known about the film. According to notes a massive death mass and dance scene were added. How you could add a dance to “Nosferatu” remains a mystery to me.
Florence died in 1937, and not surprisingly, copies of the film began to pop up. Sadly, these films were edited or condensed. Some even changed the story cards of the silent film and the characters names were changed to their Dracula equivalent. In 1972 a rather badly damaged but complete copy of the film was found and released by Blackhawk films. And in 1979, a color-talking remake starring Klaus Kinski was made. But then came 1984, and voila a restored perfect copy of the film was showcased at the Berlin film festival. Now of course, you can buy a copy of the film for ten bucks at Wall-Mart, but considering the history of the film, it’s a miracle we have more than photos of it. Now, if we could only get a copy of London After Midnight (The movie, not the most excellent Goth band.).
Three and a half pages later, we get to the basis of the new movie, “Shadow of the Vampire.” This film focuses on the relationship between Murnau and Schreck, who is a REAL vampire in the film. Most likely the film will base its characters very loosely on the real people. After all, it’s Hollywood. Reality sucks. But as this is America, most people will walk away assuming what they saw was real and exactly how it happened. “Gods and Monsters,” was proof enough of that. And don’t get me started on “Blair Witch.” Ick.
F.W. Murnau was born in 1888 under his real name of Fredrich Wilhelm Plumpe and is considered one of the great masters of German Expressionism. Ironically, his directing career began with propaganda films for the German Army to bolster the moral of troops in World War I. He had a rather interesting career, known for his shadowing techniques, and what would pass for special effects in those days. Perhaps the most interesting film of note to vampire fans other than “Nosferatu,” was his 1920 release, “Der Januskopf.” It was another plagiarism of a famous Novel. You might know it as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Conrad Veidt played the good doctor. And Mr Hyde? None other than Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi. Murnau eventually went to America and directed some films over here. There’s no real need in me covering this, as I’ve found over a dozen biographies devoted to the man, and it wouldn’t kill you all to pick up a book instead of a small essay.
Schreck however, is the folklorist’s dream. All the urban legends and rumours about him! Some say “Nosferatu” was the only film he was ever in. Some say he was never seen without his makeup on and that he disappeared after this film, never to be seen again. And some, like “Shadow” points out, claim Max was a true member of the Undead. And this is of course, pure claptrap.
It is true the real Max Schreck has a mysterious past and little is known about him. But all of the above rumours are untrue. Max Schreck was born in Berlin during the year 1879. He starred in 30 films, and had a long stage career before his days on the silent screen. You can read his filmography on the last page of this essay, as well as view two pictures of the man without his makeup. Not a handsome man, but certainly bears little resemblance to Count Graf Orlock.
Those of you that know German may recognize his last name. “Schreck” is the German word for “fear,” or “Fright.” This adds to the conspiracy theory of the man being a vampire. Of course, those people fail to realize that people can have peculiar last names, even ones that are actual words. Some people theorize that Schreck was a pseudonym for the actor in “Nosferatu.” Many theorized that Schreck was actually actor Alfred Abel, famous for his roles in Fritz Lang’s films “Doctor Mabuse,” and the ultra famous “Metropolis.” But this again is hopeful fantasy. Most of Schreck’s films were comedies or dramas. “Nosferatu” appears to be his lone journey into the realm of terror. And surprise! His last name stayed the same before and after the film he is most famous for. Besides the fact there is little if any physical resemblance, both Adams and Schreck had two different wives. Schreck married one Fanny Norman. Sadly her name is the only information available to the author. Less is known about her than even Schreck.
Schreck got his start in the Max Reinhardt stage troupe. Interestingly enough, Murnau too learned from Reinhardt. Schreck’s first film role was apiece entitled, “Der Richter von Zalamea.” It was his first film, and it gained him fame for being one of the actors at the time that could make the leap from stage to screen and back successfully. “Nosferatu” of course gained him a great deal of renown, although at the time of the film, most of it was infamy, due to the scandal surrounding the film, and the fact that most critics, not to mention the average person, walked away bewildered by the cinematography.
Most of Schreck’s films are lost to the world forever due to time or other mishaps, but two are known to still be circulated on a limited basis. The first is the 1923 film, “Die Strauss,” where Schreck plays a blind man using children as his guide dogs. This film is rather acclaimed by silent film fans and is worth a look, especially for it’s early ‘Film Noir’ style. Drugs, hookers, and death rather describes the entire plot of the film. Although Max has a small role, it is worth seeing. The second film is another 1923 film, “Die Finanzen des Grossherzogs,” where was again directed by Murnau. The film is very bad, to put it bluntly and even the director lambasted it after watching it. In fact, most of the comedies Max Schreck made were considered poor. I won’t even go into the military comedy “Krieg in Frieden.” I want you to enjoy this man’s works. Not watch your liver explode.
Little more is known about the man. He continued acting until his death in Munich on November 26th, 1936. The cause of death was a heart attack. One could blame on spotty records from the time period, or maybe Max just lead an unremarkable life. He left no heirs, but there is a Max Schreck living here in the US. He’s a Ceramic artist and does bear a very strong resemblance to the B&W actor. Of course, I’m not giving out any more information than that, lest a horde of Sean Manchester (re: The Highgate Vampire scare in England roughly 30 years ago…) break down his door and stake him. Oops. There I go adding to the fantasy world of Gothlings everywhere.
So there you have it. The sordid history of “Nosferatu” wrapped up in a nice little essay. As good as “Shadow of the Vampire,” may be, remember that it’s merely fiction. And that the truth can be just as interesting as the legends and fantasy surrounding it.