ByLarry Counts, writer at
Larry Counts

Horror is the red-headed stepchild of the film industry. Actors HATE horror-for decades, Spencer Tracy's Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde was the only Oscar awarded to a horror film. Critics consider it lowbrow, caveman entertainment. Fans-well, other than a small handful of the squeamish, I've never met anyone outside the industry that doesn't love horror, or have a handful of horror flicks in their favorites list (or their private collection). Even in "dark times", horror SELLS.

That's probably why actors hate it-they get to make their bones in some low budget picture with goopy effects syrups ruining their clothes, or so covered in latex they get no facetime. Guys take their girls to the theater, get them scared so they'll cuddle, and reassure them the big strong man will get them through a sex scene without the killer striking. This means sales, at least two tickets, and that is the lifeblood of the industry.

According to Alfred Hitchcock, Horror and Comedy were the two toughest film genres (and he should know since he was the greatest director to date) since either done badly becomes the other. The Master of Suspense may have been onto something, since he only did two horror films, Psycho(1960) and The Birds(1963)-and guess which two films of his most modern audiences have actually seen?

Horror has staying power, too. Max Schreck did Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens in 1922 and it still gets aired on PBS in October. It's a beautiful, creepy film that established the modern horror film. If you doubt the influence of Nosferatu, bear in mind it was the first time sunlight killed a vampire, an addition to the myth that everyone "knows" despite being created by this film as Murnau didn't have the special effects budget for staking, burning, or decapitation, but a camera dissolve? Easy peasy.

I don't know if the entire film survives today-Bram Stoker's widow aggressively pursued a copyright suit that destroyed the already bankrupt studio, and all copies were ordered destroyed by the courts. The modern copies have been pieced together from fragments, hoarded away by avid fans and collectors until time passed and no one was interested in enforcing the court's edict anymore.

Nosferatu is not the Byronic vampire Stoker created-he is a gaunt monster more akin to his rat hordes than his human prey, and his arrival in Wisborg brings a plague ended only by the self-sacrifice of a virgin who delays him feasting on her sweet blood until cockcrow, when he dissolves in the dawn. The plague abates without his presence, and the heroic realtor who sold the vampire his home gets to bury his fiance-not really a happy ending for anyone.

Nosferatu was heavily influential-aside from recreating the tenets of horror as we understand them today, Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 97% "fresh" rating, and Empire magazine listed it at #21 of "The 100 best Films of World Cinema" in 2010, and I keep it in my regular rotation personally, albeit with Type O Negative's soundtrack, as it has held up much better than most silent films.

Hoary old Graf Orlock had a definite influence on Kurt Barlow in Salem's Lot (1979), and I think the character is a mute as an homage to his predecessor. Other vampires who took their cue from Graf Orlock include Boris Karloff's Gorca in Black Sabbath's The Wurdalak segment, Janos Skorzeny in The Night Stalker(1972), and Radu Vladislas in the Subspecies series, all of which are worth a viewing.


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