Nosferatu Lives

It reads like the script from one of his horror films; a stolen head, burnt black candles and satanic symbols – but this week they became elements of Berlin police department’s latest case.

The head in question belonged to Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, the director of the iconic early-20th-Century Dracula film adaptation ‘Nosferatu – a Symphony of Horror’, taken from his grave near the German capital.

And officers have have already turned their attention to Germany’s darker sects as they search for those who took the well-preserved body part from a grave site often scrawled with pentangles and other symbols of devil worship.

Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’ was and remains one of the most important milestones in cinema.

Based upon Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel ‘Dracula’, it told the story of Count Orlok of the undead, and its moody scenes and clever camera angles influenced generations of fans and filmakers alike.

But death was at the heart of the movie and death has continued to stir the passions of vampire lovers ever since it was made in 1922.

Indeed, his own death in 1931 aged 41 was enough to elicit some fascination of its own: openly homosexual, he was engaging in oral sex with his 14-year-old Filipino houseboy on the Pacific Coast Highway at Santa Barbara when he lost concentration and slammed into a telegraph pole.

His corpse was embalmed and placed in a metal coffin, and the following year it was shipped to Germany for burial in Stahnsdorf’s south-west cemetery.

And down the years the lovers of the undead – goths, ghouls and living vampires who get their sexual thrills from the drinking of human blood – have made the pilgrimage to the grave of Murnau to pay their respects to a man…

Stahnsdorf cemetery warden Olaf Ihlefeldt found the head missing as he slid the lid of the coffin away while investigating minor damage he had spotted on mausoleum number 22.

‘The body is still in pretty good condition,’ he said.

Murnau’s head was still recognisable and had its hair and teeth, he added, ‘the last time I saw it‘.

RTFA for tidbits and collateral tales of Satanism, vampire cults and other slightly disturbing religious rationales for often-demented, sometimes fanciful behavior.

Good enough for today’s TV series.

I must admit when my parents convinced the head librarian of our neighborhood Carnegie Library that I – 8-years-old – had exhausted the offerings for teens and pre-teens and required an adult library card, I almost blew it when the first book I went to borrow was Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.

Murnau’s “Nosferatu” has long been my favorite silent film. If you require a soundtrack, try the version by Werner Herzog, “Nosferatu the Vampyre”, starring Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani.

Woo hoo!

4 thoughts on “Nosferatu Lives

  1. Filmer says:

    According to several sources: after the accident Murnau’s heirs, led by his mother, Ottilie Plumpe, filed a lawsuit against the Tanner Livery Service, who provided the car and driver Murnau had hired, on the grounds of the company being responsible for Murnau’s death as a result of it’s employee, the chauffeur John Freeland, having violated company rules by allowing someone other then himself to drive their vehicle. Reportedly during this legal action it was established that Murnau (who was headed from Los Angeles to Carmel for a meeting with the author William Morris – who was going to write a novelization of “Tabu”) was accompanied not only by his valet Garcia Stevenson but also Ned Marin – the manager of the company that did the synchronization for “Tabu”, as well as Murnau’s large German sheepdog ‘Pal’ (Herman Bing and another assistant who had worked on “Tabu” were following in a second car). Apparently after the chauffeur stopped for gas in Ellwood (about twelve miles west of Santa Barbara) Murnau’s valet, who had been sitting in the front passenger seat, asked if he could drive the car and the chauffeur obliged. If true this would put Murnau, Ned Marin, and the sheepdog were in the back seat at the time of the accident. As a matter of record everyone in that car except Murnau survived the accident and presumably would have been available to testifyl. Would that this court record was readily available, as it might help to put to rest some of the sensational and oft repeated accounts of Murnau’s death. Of the 21 films Murnau directed, 8 have been completely lost, leaving 12 surviving in their entirety. One reel (13 minutes?) of his 1921 feature ‘Marizza’ was apparently found in a private collection https://www.lost-films.eu/films/show/id/143

  2. on the shoulder of giants says:

    “Murnau may not have been the first to employ elaborate set designs, expressionist lighting techniques, meticulous costume designs, or moving and subjective cameras, but he was one of the first to master each and weave them together into a cinematic tapestry unrivaled in early, or for that matter contemporary, film. As a celebration of the visual over the literary, the film {Faust, 1926} seduces us with its images, and its visual design is palpable.” http://classic-horror.com/reviews/faust_1926 See also “F.W. Murnau’s Wondrous Romance of Space & Light” @ http://www.nysun.com/arts/fw-murnaus-wondrous-romance-of-space-light/1562/ and Fritz Lang’s eulogy page 225 and Emil Jannings comments on the following page @ http://tinyurl.com/pv47a8c
    Production still: F.W. Murnau putting make-up on Emil Jannings during filming of “Faust” (1926)

  3. M says:

    “The skull robbers: how celebrity culture lost its head” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/17/skull-robbers-celebrity-culture-murnau-goya-beethoven-haydn See also Poncho Villa @ http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303828304575179683387497278 Geronimo @ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/us/20geronimo.html and The Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Hyrtl Skull Collection @ http://muttermuseum.org/exhibitions/hyrtl-skull-collection/ The use of skulls for ritual and other purposes cuts across all ethnic lines and cultures, see for instance “Ancient Jews used skulls in ceremonies despite ban’ : Human skulls unearthed in Iraq believed to have been used to ward off demons during Talmudic era.” http://www.haaretz.com/news/ancient-jews-used-skulls-in-ceremonies-despite-ban-1.274052

  4. p/s says:

    In 2009, the descendants of the Apache chief Geronimo sued Skull and Bones, Yale’s notorious secret society, claiming that the members of the group had robbed their ancestor’s grave in 1918 and had been keeping his skull in a glass case at their headquarters. The lawsuit was later dismissed on technical grounds [ http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/yale_secrety_society_skull_bones_wins_lawsuit_over_geronimos_remains ], and Skull and
    See also “The beheading of Pancho Villa” https://www.theyucatantimes.com/2018/11/the-beheading-of-pancho-villa-92-years-of-mystery/
    What is known as ‘The Treaties of Bucareli’, which set the terms for the diplomatic recognition of the United States of the government of Álvaro Obregón, was signed on August 10, 1923, two weeks after the assassination of General Francisco Villa. Among other things the treaties exempting US oil and other companies from the revolutionary and nationalist legislation embodied in the Constitution of 1917 that would have resulted in the expropriation of their property in Mexico. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bucareli_Treaty
    According to some accounts a cable was sent on July 28, 1923, by the military intelligence agent, Louis D. Netto, to the government of the United States, which was declassified many years later by the FBI, which states that the ‘second of the basic conditions’ imposed by the United States on Mexico in Bucareli, was the physical elimination of Pancho Villa, in retaliation for the attack on Columbus, New Mexico in 1916. http://lavereda.com.mx/index.php/letras-libros/11-letras-y-libros/270-la-muerte-de-pancho-villa-y-los-tratados-de-bucareli
    In 1923–24, Obregón’s finance minister, Adolfo de la Huerta, launched a rebellion in part protesting the Bucareli Treaty; Obregón returned to the battlefield to crush the rebellion. In his victory, he was aided by the United States with arms and 17 U.S. planes that bombed de la Huerta’s supporters.
    In 1938 President Lázaro Cardénas expropriated Mexican oil refineries from various groups of producers in accordance with article 27 of the 1917 Mexican Constitution and returned other foreign owned property to its rightful owners.

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