Friday, October 07, 2011

Scariest Characters in Cinema #25 - Count Orlok

Of all the many iconic cinematic incarnations of Dracula, from Bela Lugosi to Christopher Lee to Gary Oldman, the best and most frightening remains the original, unauthorized version, Count Orlok (Max Schreck). In F.W. Murnau's silent classic Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (a Symphony of Terror), Schreck portrays the count not as a seductive aristocrat but as a ravenous animal. With his unnaturally pale skin, clawlike hands and rodentlike teeth, he's a pitiful but nevertheless frightening creature motivated only by his hunger. The look of the character remains iconic, but the movie also remains effective 90 years later due to Schreck's eerie screen presence - Orlok's unnatural stillness, stooped posture, weirdly fluid movement and his joyless, purposeful expression as he feeds on humans make for a believably cursed and insatiable monster.

In Werner Herzog's 1979 remake of the film, Klaus Kinski gives Orlok a sort of poetic loneliness that is very affecting, and Herzog's film is in many ways the better one. And Willem Dafoe's Schreck-as-Orlok performance in the pseudo-making-of film Shadow of the Vampire is a hoot. But it remains Schreck, lurking in the corridors of his castle of the Carpathian mountains, that lingers most strongly in our memory. Aided by Murnau's masterful interplay of light and shadow, Schreck's performance is one of the key foundations for every movie monster that followed.

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