Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween 2015

As is my usual custom at A Shroud of Thoughts I'm posting classic pinups for Halloween. Without further ado, then, here they are:

First up is the lovely Paulette Goddard and a menacing shadow.

Next up is Esther Williams, who prefers to carve pumpkins in a swimsuit!

Barbara Bates is using her jack o'lantern as a scarecrow!

Ellen Drew and her jack o'lantern!

Vera-Ellen is trying to fly like a bat!

And it wouldn't be Halloween without at least one picture of Ann Miller!

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ranking the Dracula Film Adaptations

According to Guinness World Records, Dracula is the most portrayed literary character on film. As of 2012 he has appeared in 272 films. Of course, since then he has appeared in a few more. Some of the films in which Dracula has appeared have actually been adaptations of the original novel, Dracula by Bram Stoker. I rather suspect everyone has their favourite adaptation of the novel, and as someone who has read the book several times I am no different. I then thought it would be fun to rank what I consider the major adaptations of Dracula in order from best to worst.

Here I have to say that for obvious reasons I have only included movies that I have personally seen. I also have to say that I am only including theatrical releases. No television movies are included in this list. As much as I love Dan Curtis's excellent 1973 TV movie Bram Stoker's Dracula (which starred Jack Palance in the title role), it's not included on this list for that reason. Finally I am only including films that sought to adapt Bram Stoker's original novel, even though all of them strayed from it in some way, shape, or form. For that reason films that feature Dracula but aren't really adaptations of the novel (Universal's Son of Dracula, Hammer's Dracula: Prince of Darkness, et. al.) are not included.

Without further ado, here are eight adaptations of Dracula from the best to the worst.

1. Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922):  Nosferatu is the oldest surviving adaptation of the novel and was possibly the first film adaptation as well (there are reports of a 1920 Russian film Drakula, but its very existence has been questioned). It was also an unauthorised adaptation of the novel. The names of the characters were changed (Dracula became Orlok, Joanthan Harker became Thomas Hutter, and so on) and the bulk of the plot was moved from England to Germany, but it is still very recognisable as Dracula. In fact, it was so recognisable as Dracula that Bram Stoker's widow, Florence Stoker, was able to sue for copyright infringement and win.

While Nosferatu was a fairly blatant act of plagiarism, in my opinion it also remains the best Dracula adaptation ever filmed. Although the film is often counted as an example of German Expressionism, Nosferatu is actually a very naturalistic film that used actual locations and in which the actors' performances were rather subdued.. At the same time F. W. Murnau gave the film a dream-like quality in the scenes in which Count Orlok appears. This blend of naturalism and fantasy resulted in a film that was much more frightening than if it had been a purely Expressionistic film.

2. Dracula (1958--released in the United States as Horror of Dracula): In 1957 Hammer Films released The Curse of Frankenstein, a colour adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel. The Curse of Frankenstein proved to be a hit, so they followed it with their own adaptation of Dracula. Dracula (1958) was the first colour adaptation of the novel. As if this was not enough to set it apart from previous adaptations of the novel, Dracula (1958) featured a good deal of blood (in glorious Eastman Colour at that) and a strong current of sexuality that ran throughout the film.

Aside from being different from any adaptation of Dracula released before it, Dracula (1958) also boasted impressive production values despite its moderate budget. Along with The Curse of Frakenstein, Dracula (1958) established the look of Hammer Films that include lush colours, lavish sets, and on location shooting. The film also featured the debut of the actor I consider the quintessential Dracula in the role. As Dracula, Sir Christopher Lee could be menacing, intimidating, sensual, and charming all at the same time. He would go on to play the role seven more times.

3.   Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979--released in the English speaking world as Nosferatu the Vampyre): Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979) is essentially a remake of and an homage to Nosfeartu: eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922). Quite naturally this makes it an adaptation of Dracula as well. Like the original Nosferatu, Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht moved the action of the novel from England to Germany. Unlike the original Nosferatu, Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht retained the names of the characters from the novel: Count Dracula instead of Count Orlok, Jonathan Harker instead of Thomas Hutter, and so on.

So often remakes of beloved classics turn out to be bitter disappointments, but this is not the case with Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht. The film boasts both impressive production design and a great music score. It also has an excellent script, which retains the horror of the original film, but at the same time expands the plot so that the characters are more developed (including Dracula). Klaus Kinski gave a great performance as Dracula, so much so that he should be considered one of the quintessential screen Draculas despite playing the role only once.

4. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992): In some respects Bram Stoker's Dracula is a much more faithful adaptation of Dracula than previous versions. It retains more elementa of the novel's original plot than many of the adaptations, which often veer from it dramatically. Indeed, it featured major characters from the novel (such as Quincey Morris) who almost never appear in film versions. In other ways it departs dramatically from the novel, particularly with regards to the portrayals of some of the characters.

Regardless, Bram Stoker's Dracula stands a remarkable achievement in bringing the often-adapted novel to the screen. The film has incredible production design, as well as impressive cinematography. It also has some impressive performances, particularly with regards to Gary Oldman in the title role. Here I feel have to defend Keanu Reeves in the film, whose casting as Jonathan Harker was much criticised. I will agree that Mr. Reeves's performance as Harker leaves much to be desired (he boasts one of the worst accents in movie history). That having been said, having read the novel repeatedly I can honestly say that Jonathan Harker is one of the blandest, most unremarkable characters in literary history. I'm not sure anyone can do very much with the role!

5. Dracula (1931--Spanish Language Version): In the early days of talkies the American studios often shot foreign language versions of their films, using the exact same sets as the English language version. In addition to an English language version, then, a film made in the early Sound Era might have a Spanish, French, German, or Italian version as well. This was the case with Universal's 1931 adaptation of Dracula. By day the English language version was shot. By night a Spanish version, with a different cast, was shot on the exact same sets. Long thought missing the Spanish version was rediscovered in the Seventies and restored. Since then there has been continuous debate among classic horror fans as to which is truly the better movie.

Personally, I think the Spanish version is the better of the two myself. It has much tighter editing than the English language version, as well as better use of camera angles and lighting. It also has much more interesting costumes. I think the cast is superior as well, with Lupita Tovar giving a more convincing performance than Helen Chandler in the same role. Now there are those who argue that the English language Dracula (1931) has a better Dracula, but I have to disagree there too. Granted Carlos Villarías looks a bit like an evil Carl Reiner, but his performance is much more subdued than that of Bela Lugosi (more on that in a bit). The Spanish version of Dracula does have some problems. It does tend to drag, but that is also a flaw shared with the English version as well.

6. Dracula (1931): Universal Pictures' 1931 adaptation of Dracula is for many the quintessential film version of the novel. There are some fairly good reasons for that. It was the first sound version of the novel in the English language, and it was also very successful at the box office. Its success would spark a cycle towards horror films that lasted until 1936 and produced such classics as Frankenstein (1931), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Freaks  (1932) King Kong (1933), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). It also helped established Universal as the best known maker of horror movies until Hammer Films emerged in the Fifties.

Dracula (1931) certainly did have a good cast. Edward Van Sloan and Dwight Frye gave particularly impressive performances as Professor Van Helsing and Renfield respectively. It also boasted some remarkable sets. The opening sequence in Transylvania and the climax of the film are impressive. Unfortunately Dracula also has quite a few flaws. Once the action moves to England the film begins to drag a great deal. It seems much more like a filmed stage play than an actual motion picture. And while many consider Bela Lugosi the quintessential Dracula, I've always thought his performance in Dracula (1931) was a bit too hammy and over the top. Bela Lugosi  would go on to give some truly great performances (including Tesla in The Return of the Vampire, who was Dracula in all but name, and Dracula in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). Regardless, Dracula (1931) had a huge impact that continues to be felt to this day.

7. Count Dracula (1970): Sir Christopher Lee starred in the title role in Count Dracula, but it was not a Hammer Film. Instead it was produced by independent film producer Harry Alan Towers and was directed by Jesús Franco. Count Dracula had a great cast in addition to Sir Christopher Lee. Harry Lom played Professor Van Helsing and Klau Kinski (who would go on to play Dracula himself) played Renfield. Count Dracula was much more loyal to the source material than most films. In fact, it is the first adaptation of the novel to feature the character of Quincey Morris. It even has Dracula beginning the film as an older man and then growing younger as he feeds on more and more blood, just as took place in the novel.

Unfortunately the film is flawed despite the great cast and loyalty to its source material. Made on a shoestring budget, the production values of Count Dracula are very low. The lavishness of other Dracula films (particularly the Hammer Films) is entirely missing . A more serious flaw is that the film does tend to drag at times, to the point that it can be heavy going. Regardless, fans of Sir Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, or the original novel will want to give it a look.

8. Dracula (1979): In 1977 Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston's stage version of Dracula was revived on Broadway. Starring Frank Langella in the title role, the revival of the play proved very successful. That success lead to Universal's 1979 adaptation of Dracula. Like the 1931 film version, the 1979 version drew heavily upon Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston's play.

Dracula (1979) boasts impressive production design and is among the most stylish of any of the adaptations of the novel. Frank Langella also gave an impressive performance as Dracula. Dracula (1979) had a very strong current of sexuality running through the film as well, more even than Hammer's 1958 adaptation. Unfortunately the film shares the flaw of the 1931 version of dragging severely in parts. Worse yet, at least one scene (if you have seen the movie you probably know the one I'm talking about) is so over the top that it not only makes it hard to take Dracula (1979) seriously, but it makes it blatantly clear the film was made in the Seventies. Dracula (1979) saw some success on VHS in the Eighties, but now seems to be nearly forgotten.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Bride of Frankenstein: A Perfect Night for Mystery and Horror

(This post is part of the The Universal Pictures Blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes)

It is a very rare thing for a sequel to be considered better than the original movie. King Kong (1933) is counted among the greatest films of all time. Son of Kong (1933) is not counted among the greatest films of all time. Jaws (1975) is now considered a classic. Jaws 2 (1978) is not. The exceptions to the rule that sequels are inferior to original films are few and far between. Among these exceptions can be counted Bride of Frankenstein (1935). More often than not Bride of Frankenstein  is counted as a better film than Frankenstein (1931). In Time magazine's 2005 list of the "All-Time 100 Movies", Time critics Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel commented of Bride of Frankenstein, "This is one of those rare sequels that is infinitely superior to its source (for those who are wondering, Frankenstein didn't make the list)." Roger Ebert, in his January 3 1999 review of Bride of Frankenstein, called it "the best of the Frankenstein movies." Comcast's Xfnity website included it in their list of "Movie Sequels Better Than the Original".

Of course, Frankenstein itself is considered a classic and often counted among the greatest horror movies of all time. It was also a box office smash at the time of its release, truly the Jaws or Star Wars of its day. Throughout the country people stood in long lines to see the film. It broke box office records up to that time at several cinemas in the United States. Ultimately Frankenstein was the highest grossing film of 1931. Today such success would guarantee that a studio would set about making a sequel immediately.

Not surprisingly, Universal considered a sequel to Frankenstein while the movie was still doing phenomenal business at theatres in 1931. Robert Florey, who would go on to direct Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), wrote an 8 page treatment for a sequel entitled The New Adventures of Frankenstein: The Monster Lives, dated December 20 1931. It was rejected in early 1932.  Universal started to move forward with plans for a sequel in 1933, but had one major hurdle to overcome in its production. Quite simply, director James Whale had little interest in making the film. Universal then assigned the task of directing the sequel to Frankenstein, at that point titled The Return of Frankenstein, to Kurt Neumann, who would go on to direct the movies Rocketship X-M (1950) and The Fly (1958).

The Return of Frankenstein would go through several different writers before it finally became Bride of Frankenstein. Tom Reed, who had earlier worked on the titles for Universal's 1925 classic Phantom of the Opera, wrote the first script. Detective story writer Lawrence Blochman wrote a treatment dated December 1933. Lawrence Blochman would be followed by another detective writer, Philip MacDonald, who would go on to write the screenplays for The Last Outpost (1935) and Rebecca (1940).

Throughout all of this James Whale had been busy with other projects. He directed two films, the largely forgotten comedy By Candlelight (1933) and the classic horror movie The Invisible Man (1933). James Whale intended his next project to be a science fiction movie, A Trip to Mars. A Trip to Mars already had a script, written by R. C. Sheriff (who had also written the screenplay for The Invisible Man) and was even slated to go into production in March 1934. Unfortunately Carl Laemmle, Sr., the founder and head of Universal Pictures, did not like A Trip to Mars and effectively killed the project. James Whale then agreed to direct The Return of Frankenstein, but on two conditions. First, he wanted to adapt John Galsworthy's novel One More River as a film. Second, he wanted complete creative control.  Given the success of The Invisible Man and the fact that production on The Return of Frankenstein had been stalled for time, Universal met James Whale's demands and assigned him to direct the film.

James Whale was unhappy with all of the scripts for The Return of Frankenstein. Prior to going to work on the sequel to Frankenstein, Mr. Whale remarked to his friend R. C. Sheriff, "They've had a script made for a sequel and it stinks to heaven." James Whale asked Mr. Sheriff to write the film's screenplay, but he declined. Mr. Whale then turned to playwright and screenwriter John L. Balderston. Mr. Barlderston had been responsible for revising Hamilton Deane's stage adaptation of Dracula for American audiences--it would be his work that would form the basis for the screenplay of Universal's Dracula (1931). He would go on to write the screenplays for Mad Love (1935), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), and Gaslight (1944).  It was John L. Balderston who seized upon an incident in the original novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, in which the Creature demands Frankenstein build a mate for him, only to have Frankenstein destroy the female creature before she is even given life.

James Whale was not entirely happy with John L. Balderston's script, so in November 1934 he brought William Hurlbut on to the project to rework the screenplay. Mr. Hurlbut had written the early Universal horror movie The Cat Creeps (1930). James Whale and William Hurlbut reshaped the screenplay, retaining the idea of Frankenstein creating a mate for the Creature, but adding Dr. Pretorius, as well as the characters of Minnie (ultimately played by Una O'Connor) and the Burgomaster. They also gave the screenplay much more of a sense of humour and a bit of whimsy than the original film had.

James Whale and William Hurlbut pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable for films in late 1934. As might be expected, then, they ran into trouble with the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPDAA) Production Code Administration, headed by Joseph Breen. Mr. Breen objected to any and all references in the script that compared Henry Frankenstein to God. He also objected to a scene in which the Creature rushes across a graveyard to try to  "rescue" a figure of Jesus crucified on a cross. Joseph Breen objected to a scene in which the Creature eavesdrops on a couple exchanging vows of love as well, worried it could be misconstrued by audiences as the Creature watching two people engaged in physical lovemaking. Mr. Breen also found the use of the word "mate" with regard to the Bride offensive, and he objected to the sheer number of murders in the script.

Ultimately James Whales complied with nearly every one of Joseph Breen's requests, although there was enough "questionable" material remaining that there were those who found parts of Bride of Frankenstein (as The Return of Frankenstein was retitled) offensive. The film ran afoul of the Ohio censorship board, who demanded a number of cuts to the film. Universal asked Joseph Been to have Will H. Hays, head of the MPDAA, to intervene. Mr. Hays was eventually able to get the Ohio censorship board to agree to cutting only one scene in the film. Bride of Frankenstein was rejected outright by the countries of Hungary, Palestine, and Trinidad. Sweden demanded so many cuts that Universal withdrew the film from that country.

Bride of Frankenstein received a good reception upon its initial release in 1935. The film was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews. The New York Times praised the cast, James Whale, the film's settings, the film's photography, and makeup artist Jack Pierce. In its review of Bride of Frakenstein, Variety echoed The New York Times' sentiments, saying one could not review or talk about it "...without mentioning the cameraman, art director, and score composer in the same breath as the actors and director." The Oakland Tribune called the film, "...a fantasy produced on a rather magnificent scale, with excellent stagecraft and fine photographic effects." Bride of Frankenstein proved popular with audiences as well. While it did not break box office records as Frankenstein did, it did do remarkably well.

Seen today Bride of Frankenstein seems more modern in its execution and its attitudes than many other films released while the Production Code was in force. Strangely enough, it seems much more like a Pre-Code film than many of the films Universal released before the Code was more strictly enforced in 1934. James Whale was able to get a remarkable amount of material past the censors. While Joseph Breen got all comparisons of Henry Frankenstein to God cut from the film, an amazing amount of religious symbolism remained. At one point angry villagers captured the Creature and tied him to a pole in a cruciform pose. The figure of a crucified Jesus in the graveyard remained, even though the Creature did not try to "rescue" him as in the original script. In the hut of a hermit there is a crucifix on the wall. James Whale's motivation for incorporating so much cruciform imagery in Bride of Frankenstein is difficult to say, although one has to suspect he did so as he suspected any and all comparisons between Henry Frankenstein and God would probably be cut.

Beyond the amount of religious imagery in the film, there is also the matter of Dr. Pretorius, who has been interpreted by many as a coded homosexual. Ernest Thesiger's performance as Pretorius is flamboyant, if not outright camp. In the book The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, David J. Skal describes Pretorius as "...a gay  Mephistopheles." Even if Dr. Pretorius is not interpreted as a homosexual, there were plenty of other things that James Whale also got past the censors. Particularly when compared to other horror movies released immediately after stricter enforcement of the Production Code, Bride of Frankenstein was in some ways a very violent movie. Throughout the film 10 different people are killed. Bride of Frankenstein also skirted the Production Code in allowing Henry Frankenstein to survive. Quite simply, the Production Code required characters in films to pay for their crimes.

Particularly for a Universal horror film made after the Production Code was being more strenuously enforced. Bride of Frankenstein was in many respects a very subversive film. Indeed, the film is very well known for its humour. Much of this humour comes through the insidious Dr. Pretorius, whose wit is razor sharp, although it is also seen in Minnie and the Burgomaster, who both serve as comedy relief. Prior to Bride of Frankenstein many, although hardly all, horror films tended to be grim affairs with little in the way of humour. With Bride of Frankenstein James Whale was able to incorporate humour, sometimes very dark humour, into the proceedings without it overpowering the movie. While Bride of Frankenstein is very funny at times, it still remains a very serious horror movie.

Indeed, at its core Bride of Frankenstein is still a frightening movie, particularly as James Whale succeeds in making viewers care very much about the characters. All of them are well developed in the film, especially the Creature as played by Boris Karloff. Boris Karloff gave a bravura performance as the Creature in Frankenstein and makes him even more human and sympathetic in Bride of Frankenstein. Since the audience actually cares about the characters, then James Whale was able to exploit the audience's fear of something happening to them, and he does so most effectively.

Today Bride of Frankenstein remains one of the best loved horror movies of all time. It is counted by many not only among the greatest horror movies of all time, but among the greatest films of any genre. As mentioned above, Time included it in its list of "All-Time 100 Movies." Empire magazine included in its list of the "500 Greatest Films of All Time." In 2008 The Boston Herald counted it as the second greatest horror film of all time, second only to Nosferatu. Bride of Frankenstein is widely considered James Whale's masterpiece. It is a sterling example of what a brilliant filmmaker can do if he is given near total creative control.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Suspense: From Classic Radio Show to Hit TV Show

More so than television ever has been, Old Time Radio was known for its classic horror and suspense anthology shows. Such radio programmes as The Witch's Tale, Lights Out, and Inner Sanctum are remembered to this day. Perhaps the best remembered of Old Time Radio's horror and suspense anthologies was a programme simply titled Suspense. Suspense had the longest run of any of the horror and suspense radio shows. It ran for twenty years, from 1942 to 1962.  Given its ratings throughout its run, as well as a remarkably long run, Suspense definitely numbers among the most successful American radio shows of all time. Like Lights Out and Inner Sanctum it would also make the transition to television. There it also proved successful, although its run on television was considerably shorter.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the origins of Suspense owe a debt to the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. In July 1940 CBS debuted a summer replacement show simply entitled Forecast. Forecast was essentially a radio show that each week would present an audition show (the radio equivalent of a television pilot) for a prospective new radio show. It was on July 22 1940 that Forecast featured the audition for a prospective new show called Suspense. To direct the audition show for Suspense CBS was able to get none other than Alfred Hitchcock himself. An agreement was struck with producer Walter Wanger, producer on Alfred Hitchcock's current movie, and the director that he would direct the show on the condition that Mr. Hitchcock could plug his latest film, Foreign Correspondent. The audition show was an adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's 1926 film The Lodger, and starred Herbert Marshall and Edmund Gwenn. The following week Forecast would air the audition show for what would become another successful radio show, Duffy's Tavern.

The audition show for Suspense received a good response from radio listeners, with letters and phone calls pouring into CBS regarding the programme. Despite this Suspense would not be added to the CBS schedule for quite some time. Fortunately, two events occurred that would guarantee that Suspense would become a mainstay of CBS Radio for twenty years. First, in 1941 the NBC Blue Network debuted Inner Sanctum Mystery, an anthology series that delivered mystery, suspense, and horror with a dose of humour. Inner Sanctum Mystery proved to be an enormous success. Second in the summer of 1942 CBS needed a summer replacement series for their radio show Random Harvest. With Inner Sanctum Mysteries a hit at the NBC Blue Network, CBS thought a suspense anthology would be a good idea. Fortunately, Suspense proved successful enough as a summer replacement series that it won a spot on CBS's schedule as a regularly scheduled programme.

Unlike its predecessors Lights Out and Inner Sanctum Mystery, Suspense was promoted as a prestige programme. It was writer and producer William Spier who largely shaped Suspense, supervising every single script. Quality was not simply expected from its scripts, but every other aspect of the show as well. Suspense also featured top name stars from film and stage, including Anne Baxter, Humprey Bogart, Ronald Colman, Jospeh Cotten, Henry Fonda, Judy Garland, Agnes Moorehead, Orson Welles, and many others. Bernard Hermman composed the theme to Suspense. While Lights Out and Inner Sanctum Mystery tended to feature more horror, Suspense spanned genres with episodes that could be considered spy thrillers, mysteries, or tales of horror. Suspense adapted The Thirty Nine Steps as well as H. P. Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror. It adapted The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie as well as Donovan's Brain by Curt Siodmak.

With the phenomenal success it had seen on radio, it was quite natural that CBS would want to bring Suspense to television. Suspense made its television debut on March 1 1949. The show was broadcast live from CBS's studios in New York City, and distributed through kinescopes to stations throughout the United States. While the radio show had expanded from thirty minutes to an hour in length in 1949, the television version of Suspense was thirty minutes. It retained Bernard Hermann's theme music, although it was played on a Hammond organ rather than by an orchestra. In its early days Suspense was produced by Robert Stevens, who would go on to produce Alfred Hitchcock Presents for many years.

To a degree the television version of Suspense was largely similar to the original radio version. Much like the radio version it featured several big names stars over the years, including Jackie Cooper, Hume Cronyn, Nina Foch, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Jeffrey Lynn, Mildred Natwick, and Basil Rathbone. It also featured such up and coming young stars as John Forsythe, Eva Gabor, Cloris Leachman, Jack Lemmon, E. G. Marshall, Lee Marvin, and Leslie Nielsen. Like the radio show, the television version of Suspense adapted stories from such mystery and suspense writers as Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Cornell Woolrich. As might be expected, the television version of Suspense also adapted many of the original plays from the radio show.

While the television version of Suspense was similar to the radio version in many ways, it also differed in some respects from the original radio show as well. The most obvious difference was that it was only a half hour at a time when the radio show was a full hour. A less obvious is that the television version featured more stories of horror than the radio show. The first season alone featured adaptations of Lord Dunsany's play A Night at the Inn, W. W. Jacobs' story "The Monkey's Paw," and Joseph Ruscoll's story "The Creeper." If anything the second season would feature even more horror stories, with adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,"Ollala (under the title "Black Passage")", and "The Suicide Club", Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Cask of Amontillado," and Michael Arlen's The Gentleman From America. In its later seasons the television version of Suspense drifted away from the genre of horror. Much of the reason for this is that the original teleplays also began to outnumber the adaptations of stories and novels in the later seasons as well. Still, tales of horror would appear on the show from time to time. As well as original horror stories and adaptations of originals from the radio show, the television version of Suspense would adapt Robert Louis Stevenson's "Markheim (under the title of "All Hallows Eve") and "The Beach of Falsea" and Charles Dickens' "The Signal Man."

Particularly given the content of some of its earlier episodes, Suspense did occasionally court controversy. New York Times radio and television columnist Jack Gould himself took issue with the episode "Breakdown," in which a still living but comatose man was nearly cremated. The episode "Black Passage (an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's tale of vampirism "Ollala")" caused a bit of a stir when a character was portrayed as drinking a glass of human blood. Not surprisingly, then, Suspense was sometimes mentioned by moral watchdog groups when discussing television violence.

Regardless, Suspense proved very popular as a television series. For the 1949-1950 season it ranked in #8 in the top ten highest rated shows for the season. What is more it was still popular when it ended its run in 1954. According to the July 10 1954 issue of Billboard, CBS moved Suspense from 9:30 Eastern Time on Tuesday to make room for the sitcom Life with Father. CBS offered Suspense's sponsor, Auto-Lite (the manufacturer of spark plugs and automobile ignition wires), alternative time slots (and afterwards even alternative programmes), but Auto-Lite rejected both offers. The initial run of the television version Suspense then came to an end.

In 1957 CBS discussed an hour long, filmed version of Suspense, along with a television version of radio's Richard Diamond, Private Detective, but while Richard Diamond made it to the small screen, Suspense was not revived as an hour long show that season. Suspense was revived as a summer replacement series hosted by Sebastian Cabot in the summer of 1964, but it was a pale imitation of both the classic radio show and the original television version.

As to the original radio show, it ended its run on September 30 1962. Given this date would be the last time the major radio networks would air original dramas in prime time, it is considered to be the end of Old Time Radio. Fittingly, Suspense, one of the most successful radio shows of all time, was the last prime time radio drama CBS ever aired.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shock!: How Television Revived the Universal Monsters

In 1957 a most unusual thing happened. Old horror movies, some of them just slightly over 25 years old, became the hottest thing on television. It was in 1957 that Screen Gems, the television division of Columbia Pictures, released Shock!, a package of old Universal horror movies, for television syndication. Shock! not only revived interest in the classic Universal horror movies, but sparked a monster craze that lasted through the late Fifties and much of the Sixties.

The Shock! package emerged  from Universal-International's desire to capitalise on their classic horror films made before 1948. Beginning in 1948 Universal-International licensed a minor distribution company, Film Classics, Inc., to reissue many of the studio's older films, including the classic horror films, the Abbot and Costello movies, the old W. C. Fields comedies, the Deanna Durbin musicals, and many others. In 1950 Film Classics, Inc. merged with British production company Eagle-Lion Films to become Eagle-Lion Classics. Thereafter Universal-International licensed Realart Pictures Inc., a distribution company founded in 1948 by Jack Broder and Joseph Harris, to reissue their movies made before 1948. Through 1954 Universal-International's older films, including their classic horror movies, played at drive-in theatres and smaller neighbourhood theatres, usually on double bills and often at children's matinees.

After Universal-International's agreement with Realart had come to an end, the studio quite naturally wished to continue to make money off their older films. At the time the most obvious way to do this would be releasing them into television syndication. The problem was that Universal-International had never been in the business of television distribution. As a result Universal-International had a choice between either establishing an organisation for distributing its films made before August 1 1948 or licensing those films to an already existing television distribution organisation. As history shows, Universal-International decided upon the latter.

While Universal-International had never been in the business of television distribution, Columbia Pictures had been in the business for many years. In 1948 Columbia established a television production and distribution subsidiary called "Screen Gems", earlier the name of their then defunct animation studio. By the mid-Fifties Screen Gems was already a well-established company in the television industry. It was on July 1 1957 that Screen Gems contracted an agreement with Universal-International to distribute 550 Universal films made before August 1 1948 on television for the next ten years. This distribution agreement was executed on August 2 1957. The deal cost Screen Gems $220 million, but history shows that it would prove be a very worthwhile investment.

Screen Gems wasted no time in assembling their first package of 52 old Universal films for television distribution. Marketed under the name Shock!, the package included such classic horrors as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), and The Invisible Man (1933). Curiously, some of Universal's best known classics were excluded from the package, most notably The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as well as House of Frankenstein(1944) and House of Dracula (1945). One can only suspect Screen Gems must have been holding them back for a future package. What is even curiouser is that Screen Gems included some movies that were not horror as part of Shock!: the 1934 mystery film Secret of the Château, the 1935 crime film Chinatown Squad, and the 1940 spy movie Enemy Agent.

To promote Shock! Screen Gems assembled a pressbook. The pressbook recommended that local stations promote the Shock! package through some very unconventional means, such as "Frankenstein's monster is first in line at a box office waiting to buy a ticket to a sporting event or an important theatrical opening" and "The live news program on your station should interview a different monster every day for 3 or 4 days prior to the premiere." The pressbook also included synopses for each movie, as well as TV news releases for each movie and biographies of some of the casts in the films. Screen Gems also provided both television stations, as well as magazines and newspapers that might give Shock! some publicity, sets of 8X10 still photographs.

Shock! proved extremely popular with television stations.By mid-November 1957 it had been sold to 78 television stations around the country, so that the package could be seen almost across the entire United States. Many of the local television stations elected to name their shows "Shock Theatre" after the package itself. Many of the stations also elected to feature hosts on their shows. In 1957 horror hosts were hardly anything new. Vampira, generally accepted to be the first horror host, had hosted a late night horror movie show as early as 1954. Generally the horror hosts were part of the existing staff at the various stations--a weatherman, floor manager, or announcer. Most did not remain in the position of horror host for more than a couple of years at most, although some would actually make a career out of it. Famous horror host Zacherley started his career as the host of Shock Theatre at WCAU-TV in Philadelphia, using the name "Roland". In 1958 he moved to WABC in New York City where he became "Zacherley" (a variant spelling of his surname--his given name was John Zacherle). Zacherley remained a horror host for literally decades and would even release several record albums and singles.

Most stations showed every film in the Shock! package, even those films that were not horror movies. This was not the case with Chicago station WBKB-TV, which refused to air several films in the package on their Shock Theatre, including The Great Impersonation (1942), Secret of the Château (1932), Enemy Agent (1940), Destination Uknown (1933),  and other films that, well, simply weren't horror movies. One can only guess that WBKB-TV wanted their Shock Theatre to be entirely dedicated to horror, and so they eschewed the crime and mystery movies. This is not to say that they did not show some of these movies at all. For instance, some were shown at other times of the week. On those occasions when WBKB-TV chose not to air a movie in the Shock! package on Shock Theatre, they simply aired another horror movie available to television. Among the movies WBKB-TV showed on their Shock Theatre that were not part of the package were Son of Kong (1933), I Walked With a Zombie (1943), and The Body Snatcher (1945).

Shock! proved enormously successful, perhaps even exceeding Screen Gems and Universal-International's expectations. When WABC-TV started showing the package at 11:15 PM on Thursday night, their ratings for the slot rose from a rather pathetic 1.6 rating with a 9.5 share to a rather incredible 8.8 rating with a 41.7 share. When the package debuted on KTLA in Los Angeles, it catapulted the station from 6th to 2nd place for the Tuesday 9:30 PM time slot. According to an article in Billboard dated October 14 1957, TV stations showing the Shock! package were seeing a boost in ratings anywhere from 38 to 1,125 percent.

Screen Gems followed the success of Shock! with another package, Son of Shock in May 1958. Son of Shock included such Universal classics as Bride of Frankenstein, Black Friday (1940), House of Frankenstein, and House of Dracula. Unlike Shock!, which contained only Universal titles, a slight majority of Son of Shock's titles were actually Columbia horror films, including The Black Room (1935), The Man They Could Not Hang (1935), and The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942).

Screen Gems also followed Shock! with packages of films belonging to genres other than horror. Before they even released Son of Shock, Screen Gems released Triple Crown, a package of 104 films evenly divided between Columbia movies and Universal movies in December 1957. Included in the packages were such films as All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), It Happened One Night (1934), Green Hell (1940), and My Sister Eileen (1942). Triple Crown and Son of Shock were followed by such packages as Sweet 65, Powerhouse (which included such films as The Invisible Woman and Charlie McCarthy, Detective), and Triumph, all including both Universal and Columbia titles. While Screen Gems released further packages in different genres following the success of Shock!, other television distributors would jump on the horror bandwagon. In late 1957 Associated Artists Productions (known by their initials a.a.p.) released their own package of 52 horror movies, mostly consisting of such Monogram titles as The Ape (1940) and King of the Zombies (1941).

Despite the success of the Shock! package not everyone was a fan. In the November 14 1957 issue of Variety it was reported that the Television Code Review Board of the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (NARTB) claimed Shock! was "bad programming" and horror movies "have an injurious effect on children". The NARTB Television Code Review Board then proposed a ban on the classic horrors among its member stations. Stations that violated the ban could be denied the NARTB Seal of Good Practice. Fortunately nothing ever came of the NARTB Television Code Review Board's proposed ban, probably because too many stations were airing the Shock! package and it was far too lucrative for them to give it up.

The distribution agreement between Screen Gems and Universal-International would also create problems for Columbia Pictures and Universal-International with the government. On  April 10 1958 the United States government filed a complaint alleging that the distribution agreement between Screen Gems and Universal-International violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act and Section 7 of the Clayton Act, two antitrust laws. The defendants in the case were Columbia Pictures Corporation, Screen Gems, Inc., and Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  At the time that the United States government filed the complaint, Screen Gems had only released the Shock! and Triple Crown packages. The case, afterwards known as United States v. Columbia Pictures Corporation, dragged on for over two years. Ultimately, on June 29 1960, it was decided that the United States government had failed to prove the defendants had violated either Section 1 of the Sherman Act or Section 7 of the Clayton Act, and as a result the complaint was dismissed.

Having survived both a proposed ban by the NARTB Television Review Code Board and an antitrust complaint from the United States government, Shock! and Son of Shock continued to air on various stations until 1967. In the meantime it sparked a monster craze that would last through much of the Sixties. The first issue of the classic magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland was published in February 1958. Aurora Plastics Corporation issued the first of its Movie Monsters series of model kits in 1961, a model of the Frankenstein Monster (although called "Frankenstein" on the box and in advertising). In 1962 the song "Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt Kickers was released. It went to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The 1964-1965 television season saw the debut of the monster sitcom The Munsters. In 1967 the classic stop-motion animation film Mad Monster Party was released. The Sixties were filled with monster toys, model kits, drinking glasses, and assorted other memorabilia.

Of course, looking back it should have been no surprise that Shock! should be so successful. Even before October 1 1957 there were signs that the Universal Monsters were due for a comeback. In 1956 Columbia Pictures released The Werewolf  and in 1957 American International Pictures released I Was a Teenage Werewolf. While both films gave science fiction explanations for their monsters, the fact remains that both utilised the traditional figure of the werewolf familiar from horror movies of the Thirties and the Forties. On June 25 1957 a British film that eschewed science fiction in favour of traditional Gothic horror was released in the United States. Hammer Films' The Curse of Frankenstein was a new adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic novel. It proved to be as big a hit in the United States as it had been in the United Kingdom. In fact, it led to a string of Gothic horrors produced by Hammer Films that would last into the Seventies. After several years of such science fiction horrors as aliens, giant insects, and gill-men, it would seem the public was ready for vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and goblins again.

The monster craze sparked by the Shock! film package appears to have peaked in the years 1961 to 1964, although interest in the classic movie monsters would remain high into the Seventies. At no point since that time has there probably been any American who does not recognise the image of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster or Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Shock! did not simply start a monster craze that would last for literally years. It also insured that the Universal Monsters would be introduced to successive generations of Americans. Perhaps more so than the various re-releases of the classic Universal horror movies in the Thirties and Forties, the Shock! TV package guaranteed the survival of the Universal Monsters for years to come.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ten Classic TV Show Episodes Suitable for Halloween Viewing

Classic television shows are known for their Christmas episodes. The majority of them aired at least one episode devoted to the holiday. That having been said, they were also known for their Halloween episodes. While not nearly as common as those devoted to the Yuletide, Halloween episodes of TV shows were common enough in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies that one could compile a rather long list. To this end I have compiled a list of TV show episodes suitable for Halloween viewing.

Here I must point out that some of these episodes did not air around Halloween, nor do all of them mention the holiday. That having been said, all of them deal with subject matter suitable for the holiday. I have purposefully excluded shows in the horror genre as if I included them they could easily dominate the list. For those who are interested, at the end of the list of TV show episodes I have a list of classic horror TV shows, any episode of which would be fitting for Halloween.

Without further ado, in chronological order by debut of the show, here are the ten episodes.

1. The Phil Silvers Show "Bilko's Vampire" (original airdate: October 1 1958): This is a very amusing episode from one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. Master Sgt. Ritzik becomes addicted to watching horror movies on television. As if this doesn't cause enough problems for Bilko (Ritzik's horror movie addiction is disrupting their regular poker games), Ritzik becomes convinced that he is a vampire.

2. Alfred Hitchcock Presents "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (made during the show's 7th season, but never aired on network primetime): Okay, given I said I was not including episodes from horror TV shows, some of you might question my choice to include an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, but strictly speaking Alfred Hitchock Presents was not a horror show. It was a suspense anthology whose usual fare would fall into the crime or mystery genres. That having been said, throughout its long run Alfred Hitchock Presents ran more than its share of episodes that were outright horror. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is one of them.

In "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" Brandon deWilde plays a mentally troubled youth who befriends a carnival magician and his wife with disastrous results. The episode was meant to be the 39th episode of the seventh season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but the show's sponsor Revlon found it so frightening and disturbing that it was not aired during the show's initial network run. It would first be seen in syndication. Several other Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes are also suitable for Halloween viewing, including "Banquo's Chair", "Human Interest Story", and "Special Delivery", among others. There is also the Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode "The Magic Shop".

3. The Twilight Zone "Living Doll" (original airdate November 1 1963): Like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, some might question the inclusion of a Twilight Zone episode, but strictly speaking it was not a horror TV series either. Instead it was a fantasy series that occasionally delved into science fiction and even horror. "Living Doll" numbers among its most famous episodes, so much so it is regularly referenced in popular culture. It is also possibly the most frightening episode of The Twilight Zone ever. Quite simply, "Living Doll" deals with Talky Tina, a talking doll who is not only self aware, but also harbours murderous intentions.

Although episodes that could be considered outright horror on The Twilight Zone weren't actually as common as some people might think they were, the series did create some memorable episodes in the genre. Among the other episodes suitable to watch on or around Halloween are "The Howling Man", "It's a Good Life", "Nothing in the Dark", and  "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet".

4. The Andy Griffith Show "The Haunted House" (original airdate October 7 1963): Unlike the first three episodes I listed, "The Haunted House" from The Andy Griffith Show is not really frightening, but it sure is funny. It all starts when Opie and his friend Arnold accidentally hit a baseball into an abandoned house they believe to be haunted. When Andy, Barney, and Gomer go to investigate the house, hilarity ensues. "The Haunted House" was the only Halloween episode ever produced for The Andy Griffith Show. It also happens to be one of its funniest.

5. Route 66 "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing" (original airdate October 26 1962):  It may not be the best Route 66 episode, but "Lizard's Legs and Owlet's Wing" is one of the most fun, especially for fans of classic horror. Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney Jr. guest star as themselves, debating whether the horrors of old would be frightening to a new generation. Of course, Tod and Buz just happen to be working at the hotel where the three classic horror stars are meeting. The episode is very enjoyable, especially as it features the stars for the very last time in the makeup of the classic monsters they made famous.

6. The Beverly Hillbillies "Trick or Treat" (original airdate October 31 1962):  In "Trick or Treat" Granny is missing the hills and complaining that none of their neighbours in Beverly Hills come to visit the way they did back home. Jed suggests to Granny that they visit their neighbours. Of course, it just happens to be Halloween.

While "Trick or Treat" is a very funny episode, I do have one caveat with it. Given the number of Scotsmen who settled in the South and brought Halloween to the United States, chances are good that The Clampetts would then be very familiar with the holiday and would likely celebrate it themselves. That having been said, they probably would not be familiar with the custom of trick or treating (as the episode suggests), which did not really develop until the early 20th Century. Regardless, it is still a very funny episode and a historic one at that. "Trick or Treat" marks the first ever mention of Hooterville, later the setting for both Petticoat Junction and Green Acres!

7. The Addams Family "Halloween with the Addams Family (original airdate: October 30 1964): Okay, arguably everyday is Halloween for the Addams Family, but Halloween itself is, well, more Halloween. It should come as no surprise that the Addamses celebrate the holiday and are more than happy to welcome visitors to their festivities. Unfortunately two hold-up men show up just as the Addams Family are celebrating Halloween. As might be expected, the hold-up men experience what usually happens to people who partake of the Addamses' hospitality....

8. F Troop "V is for Vampire" (original airdate: February 2 1967): When a Transylvania count, Count Sforza, comes to town, the men of F Troop can't help be convinced that he is a vampire. After all, he drives a hearse, has pale skin, and keeps company with a crow. The fact that he is played by none other than horror legend Vincent Price probably doesn't help matters! This is a very funny episode and it is great to see Vincent Price on the small screen any time.

9: Star Trek "Catspaw" (original airdate: October 27 1967): One would not expect a straightforward science fiction show like Star Trek to do a Halloween episode, but it did. It also happens to be one of the best episodes of the show. Written by legendary horror writer Robert Bloch, "Catspaw" has all the trappings of classic horror movies: a black cat, a derelict castle, a dungeon, and what appears to be a diabolical wizard. Of course, everything has a rational explanation in the end, but it is all good fun.

10: The Monkees "I Was a Teenage Monster" (January 16 1967): You know The Monkees are in trouble when their latest gig just happens to be in a castle belonging to a mad scientist. "I Was a Teenage Monster" is a wonderful send-up of classic horror movies, with John Hoyt as mad scientist Dr. Mendoza and Richard Kiel as the monster of the title. Curiously for a comedy about a rock band, The Monkees actually featured several other episodes suitable for Halloween, including "Monkee See, Monkee Die", "A Coffin Too Frequent", "The Monstrous Monkee Mash", "The Monkee's Paw", and "The Devil and Peter Tork". Strangely enough, none of them aired at Halloween or even in October!

Of course, over the years there have been several shows that were dedicated to the horror genre. Here is a list of classic horror TV shows, of which several episodes would be worth spending Halloween watching:

Thriller (1960-1962): Thriller began as a straight suspense anthology and very swiftly changed formats to a show that rotated horror episodes with crime episodes. Eventually the horror episodes began to outnumber the crime episodes until Thriller was more or less a straight horror anthology. In fact, it produced what I consider the most terrifying hour of television ever, an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's "Pigeons from Hell".

Dark Shadows (1966-1971): Quite naturally a soap opera that featured a vampire as a lead character and included werewolves, Frankensteinian creations, witches, and, in one episode, what was obviously the Devil himself, would be suitable for Halloween...

Night Gallery (1970-1973): Rod Serling's horror anthology was not nearly as good as The Twilight Zone, and it could be very inconsistent in quality, but it did produce some good episodes. If you want to watch it, I would recommend getting the DVD sets, which feature the episodes restored as close to their original states as possible. Sadly, the episodes airing in syndication are highly edited, to say the least. Indeed, some of the so-called "Night Gallery" episodes in syndication actually belong to an entirely different show, The Sixth Sense...

Tales from the Darkside (1984-1988): This was a syndicated horror anthology created by George Romeo of Night of the Living Dead fame. Throughout its run the show adapted stories by such writers as Clive Barker, Robert Bloch, Fredric Brown, Harlan Ellison, and Stephen King.

Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996): Before Game of Thrones, Tales from the Crypt was the HBO show to watch. The show adapted stories from EC Comics, mostly from their horror titles (Tales from the Crypt, The Crypt of Terror, Haunt of Fear, and Vault of Horror), but also from a few others as well (Crime SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories, and Two-Fisted Tales). Like the comic books Tales from the Crypt had a host, the Cryptkeeper from both Tales from the Crypt and The Crypt of Terror.

The X-Files (1993-2002): The X-Files was primarily a sci-fi show, but it featured more than enough episodes that veered into horror (more than The Twilight Zone ever did). It produced what I consider the second most frightening hour of television ever, the episode "Home".

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003): Okay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not old enough to be a classic yet, but arguably it is on its way. The show was a supernatural horror series with continuing characters, setting it apart from the earlier anthology shows. It also produced several episodes worth watching. Its spinoff, Angel, is also worth checking out.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)

(This post is part of the "Silent Cinema Blogathon" hosted by
In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood)

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), better known simply as Noseratu, remains one of the most famous vampire movies of all time. There can be no doubt that it is the most famous silent film on the subject. In many respects it is remarkable that the film even survived. Never mind that many silent films would be lost over the years (of director F. W. Murnau's movies, nine are totally or at least partially lost), as an unauthorised adaptation of the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker, Nosferatu had some fairly large obstacles to its continued existence in any form.

The genesis of Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (in English, literally Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror) goes back to Albin Grau, an artist and architect with an interest in the occult. It was Abin Grau's interest in the occult that led Mr. Grau and his partner Enrico Dieckmann to found the studio Prana Film with the intention of shooting films about the occult and supernatural subjects. The studio took its name from the Sanskrit term prana, which in Hindu philosophy refers to the "life force" or "vital energy" permeating the universe.

As to how Albin Grau decided upon the subject matter of what would be Prana Film's first and only film, it was during World War I when he was serving in the German Army that he encountered a Serbian farmer who told him that his father was a vampire. It was because of his interest in vampires that Albin Grau decided to adapt Bram Stoker's extremely popular novel Dracula. Unfortunately, Prana Film did not get the rights to do so.

Albin Grau and Enrico Dieckmann hired Henrik Galeen to write the screenplay for what would become Nosferatu.  Mr. Galeen already had experience writing a horror movie, having both co-written and co-directed the influential 1915 film Der Golem. In writing the screenplay Henrik Galeen changed the names of the characters from the novel Dracula, with Count Dracula becoming Count Orlok, Jonathan Harker becoming Thomas Hutter, Mina Harker becoming Ellen Hutter, and so on. He also eliminated many of the novel's secondary characters--there are no equivalents to the characters Arthur Holmwood or Quincey Morris in the film. He also changed locations from the novel. While most of the novel Dracula is set in Whitby, Yorkshire, most of the movie Nosferatu is set in the fictional village of Wisborg, Germany. Notably, Henrik Galeen replaced all instances of the word "vampire" (which in High German would be "Vampir") with the word "nosferatu". Despite all the changes Henrik Galeen made, Nosferatu was still recognisably an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

As to the term nosferatu used in the film and its title, its origins are difficult to ascertain. The term appeared in article written by Wilhelm Schmidt in a German language magazine in Austria-Hungary in 1865, in which he discussed Transylvanian customs. It appears to have been  introduced into English by British author Emily Gerard in the article "Transylvanian Superstitions", published in the July 1885 issue of the magazine The Nineteenth Century. In her article she simply portrayed the word nosferatu as a Romanian word for "vampire". It is from Miss Gerard's article that Bram Stoker picked up on the term and used it in the novel Dracula, where he appears to believe it to mean "not dead" and thus synonymous with the English word undead. Regardless, there appears to be no actual Romanian word nosferatu, leaving scholars to ponder where Wilhelm Schmidt came upon the term.

Of course, the director on Nosferatu would be F. W. Murnau. F. W. Murnau was already an experienced director with several films under his belt. What is more, he already had experience directing horror movies, including Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin (1920--literally "The Hunchback and the Dancer") and Der Janus-Kopf (1920--"The Head of Janus", an unauthorized adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Nosfeartu was largely shot at actual locations. Locations in Germany and Slovakia (standing in for Transylvania) were utilised in the film.

A preview of Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) was held on March 6 1922 in the Marmorsaal of the Berlin Zoological Garden. It officially premiered in cinemas on March 15 1922 at the Primus-Palast in Berlin. It was almost immediately that Florence Stoker, the widow of Bram Stoker, filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement against Prana Film. Nonetheless, the film was screened in Paris. A British distributor, Y. Froehlich, even bought the British distribution rights to the film. He submitted it to the British Board of Film Censors under the title Dracula, who rejected it, most likely due to the lawsuit in Germany.

Given Nosferatu was obviously plagiarised from Dracula, Florence Stoker won the copyright infringement case. Prana Film declared bankruptcy and would make no more films. As to Nosferatu itself, the court took the unusual action of ordering every single print of the film destroyed. Much to Florence Stoker's chagrin, at least one print survived. Worse yet, the release of F. W. Murnau's film Der letzte Mann (1924--literally "The Last Man", but released English as The Last Laugh) brought attention to the director and his earlier work in the English speaking world. Because of interest in Mr. Murnau's early work, a private club of cinephiles in London called the Film Society planned to screen Nosferatu in 1925. Florence Stoker raised objections to the showing of the film and it was cancelled, but the Film Society never let her know the location of the print. What is more, they decided to keep the print for preservation rather than see it destroyed.

For all that Florence Stoker had sought to destroy the film, Nosferatu refused to die. In 1927 the film was shown once more in Paris. In 1928, after Universal had obtained the film rights to the novel Dracula in the United States, on December 16 1928 the Film Society in London screened Nosferatu, although it appears the print they showed was a damaged one that had been partially restored. It would be the last time that Nosferatu was seen in the United Kingdom until after World War II.

It was in 1929 that Nosferatu surfaced in the United States. Fortunately, in the United States, it was learned not long after Universal had obtained the film rights to Dracula that Bram Stoker had failed to comply with one requirement to have the novel protected under American copyright. Quite simply, Dracula had been in the public domain in the United States since 1899. Any filmmaker in the United States could make a movie based on the novel or its characters without having to get the rights to do so. This also meant that Nosferatu could be freely shown in the United States. Eventually Florence Stoker gave up her fight against the film and with her death in 1937, Nosferatu would be shown more freely around the world.

Unfortunately by 1937 there was little interest in Nosferatu and there would not be until well after World War II. Nosferatu experienced a revival in the Sixties, when it began being shown on television. Unfortunately, the prints were often damaged and incomplete. It was not until the Eighties that a full version of the film would be restored, largely due to the work of  Ennos Patalas of the Munich Film Museum. This version has been released on DVD and shown on television. Curiously, the BBFC has never rescinded the ban on the film in the United Kingdom from 1922, meaning that it has not yet been shown in a British cinema, although it has appeared on British television and it has been screened privately.

Regardless, Nosferatu has come to be regarded as one of the greatest vampire movies ever made, as well as one of the greatest adaptations of the novel Dracula. It has also come to be regarded as a prime example of German Expressionism, although whether it is an German Expressionist movie is questionable. Certainly F. W. Murnau drew upon German Expressionism in his use of light and shadow in the film, but in other ways Nosferatu seems unlike most German Expressionist films. Rather than using the stylised sets of many German Expressionist films (those in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are a prime example) F. W. Murnau utilised actual locations in Nosferatu. What is more, the performances of the cast, including Max Shreck who played Count Orlock, are subdued and naturalistic, hardly the exaggerated, highly symbolic acting of German Expressionism. Ultimately Nosfeartu should probably not be regarded as an example of German Expressionism so much as a film that was influenced by German Expressionism, much in the same way that film noir would be.

Indeed, as opposed to the German Expressionist films, Nosferatu seems to be a very naturalistic and even realistic film, much more so than Universal's 1931 adaptation of Dracula. Through the use of actual locations, long takes, and the overall framing of the movie, F. W. Murnau presents a world that seems all too real despite the fantastic events that unfold. At the same time Nosferatu has a dream like quality, particularly in the scenes involving Count Orlok. While Nosferatu is a very naturalistic film, it is one that blends reality and fantasy so that any difference between the two is imperceivable.

Despite the fact that Nosferatu had been marked for destruction and for many years would be rarely seen, the film would have a lasting impact on cinema. In fact, it is in Nosferatu that we are first presented with the idea that sunlight is harmful to vampires. In vampire folklore and the novel Dracula, sunlight was not particularly dangerous to vampires. In fact, in the novel Dracula even ventures out in the daylight. Since Nosferatu, however, the idea of sunlight being harmful to vampires has become so engrained that the vast majority of films almost never stray from it.

Since its release Nosferatu has also been frequently referenced in pop culture. Clips from the film appeared in Universal's 1932 comedy short "Boo!". The film itself was remade by Werner Herzog as Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979). The 2000 horror satire Shadow of the Vampire was a fictionalised account of the making of Nosferatu, centred around the idea that Max Schreck was an actual vampire. The  Blue Öyster Cult song "Nosferatu", on their 1977 album Spectres, is about the film. French progressive rock band released an entire album based on the movie entitled Nosferatu in 1989.

Ultimately Nosferatu survived Florence Stoker's campaign against the film to become one of the best known and most respected silent films of all time. In 2007 Time included it in its list of the "Top 25 Horror Movies" at no. 21.  In 2010 the Guardian ranked Nosferatu at no. 7 in its list of the "25 Best Horror Films of All Time". As of 2015 it is the second best reviewed horror film on Rotten Tomatoes (curiously, it was beat out by another German Silent, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari). Over ninety years since its release Nosferatu remains one of the most respected horror movies of all time, a silent movie that was in many respects well ahead of its time.