A few patches of wiry hair frame his otherwise bald head, sprouting just behind his pointed ears. Razor sharp talons flex at the end of long, skeletal arms, which creak with centuries-old rigor mortis. His lips peel back into a sadistic grin, revealing rows of dull fangs that protrude in every direction.
Unlike Francis Ford Coppola’s fallen hero, with his tragic backstory and lonely heart full of love; unlike Stephenie Meyer’s coven of sparkling deer-eaters; unlike any number of sexy, seductive vampires glimpsed in recent literature and cinema, F.W. Murnau’s corpselike Count Orlok abandoned any pretense of humanity long ago. Instead of using masculine charm and good looks to attract unwary prey, he unleashes a swarm of plague rats upon the unsuspecting city to cover up his nocturnal activities.
But what really unnerves us (in a way that the filmmakers possibly never even intended) is what we don’t see. Murnau rarely shows his blood-sucker sinking his teeth into flesh, creating the impression that the mere presence of this creature of the night decimates entire populations.
[Originally written October 16, 2012.]