Nosferatu: Origins of the Vampire

By Jeff Ayers — / Lifestyle

Vampires are synonymous with the spooky Halloween season and you most likely have heard of the most famous vampire of them, Count Dracula. The vampire king does go by other names including Drac, Vlkoslag, and Nosferatu. In fact, Nosferatu is also one of the earliest film adaptations of vampires, drawing heavily from Bram Stoker's source material, the novel "Dracula".

Who was Dracula?

To really understand the origins of "Nosferatu", let's start with how Dracula came to be. Author Bram Stoker was the acting manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London and also the assistant to actor Henry Irving. When Stoker set out to write his novel, his main character, who did not have a name yet, was both a vampire and a count. Stoker found the name "Dracula" in a library and realized it would be the perfect name for his main character because it meant "devil" and was a surname given to "any person who rendered himself conspicuous by courage, cruel actions or cunning". (From Dracula on Wikipedia)

Stoker's inspirations for Dracula are varied and none of them are fully confirmed to be true or false. The most commonly accepted one is of Vlad III of Wallachia, better known as Vlad the Impaler or, fittingly, Vlad Dracula. Other sources have said that Stoker's boss Henry Irving from the theatre was also an inspiration for the count's demeanor. Irving was described by many as "a self-absorbed and profoundly manipulative man. He enjoyed cultivating rivalries between his followers, and to remain in his circle required constant, careful courting of his notoriously fickle affections." (From Henry Irving Wikipedia)

The difference between "Dracula" and "Nosferatu"

"Nosferatu" is an unofficial adaptation of Stoker's 1897 novel and the film changes quite a lot from the source material. Max Schreck starred as Count Orlok, also referred to as Nosferatu, changing the name from the original Count Dracula. The 1922 silent film also changes the novel setting from Britain in the 1890s to 1838 Germany. Nosferatu also doesn't turn his victims into vampires like Count Dracula, he just straight up kills them. 

The biggest change from the novel to the film is the creation of one of the most famous tropes about vampires. Stoker writes in Dracula that the title character is slightly weakened by exposure to solar rays, yet the count regularly walks around in the sunlight throughout the novel. The filmmakers of "Nosferatu" wanted to have a more visually compelling climax to their story, so they invented the idea that vampires burn up when exposed to direct sunlight. Nosferatu meets his fatal end and disappears in a puff of smoke when the rising sun enters his room.

Because it still felt eerily similar to the novel, shortly after the premier of the movie in Berlin, Bram Stoker's widow immediately took legal action against the movie. Unfortunately for her, the studio that made "Nosferatu" had went bankrupt already, so she decided to try and have every copy of the film destroyed. In 1925 a German court sided with Mrs. Stoker, and over the next few years many of the copies of the film were burned. But Nosferatu had an immortality much like Count Dracula himself. A few copies did survive and pirated bootlegs of the original film still survive to this day. 

Want to know more about vampires and the science behind the reality of vampirism? Check out our Halloween Special episode below: The Science of Vampires:

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