Jun 15, 2014

Nosferatu: The First Gay Vampire

According to the IMDB, the Transylvanian Count has appeared in over 400 movies and tv series since the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1891.

The first, other than the lost Hungarian Drakula hal├íla (1921), was Nosferatu (1922).  Director F. M. Murnau changed the names and some of the details when he couldn't get the rights to the novel, but he kept the dread and disgust.

This is not the romantic figure in cape and tails who enthralls his victims with the hint of sexual ecstasy.  The nosferatu is a monster who smells of rotting corpses and brings pestilence and death.  To portray Count Orlok, Max Schreck drew on all of the anti-Semitic stereotypes common in the era, from the hooked nose and bushy eyebrows to the blood libel.

And on homophobia.

F.M. Murnau was gay, so he filled his movies with the most attractive male actors he could find, and made sure that they took their clothes off at least once (left: Tabou, 1931).

 Here he cast Gustav von Wangenheim as Hutter, the real estate agent who must visit Count Orlok on business.  En route he stays overnight at an inn, and promptly takes his clothes off.

At the castle, Count Orlok tries his best to seduce Gustav: "Can we not stay together a little while longer, my lovely man?  It's still quite a long time until sunrise, and I sleep by day, dear fellow!"  He approaches, while Gustav cringes in horror.

The next morning Gustav doesn't remember what happened, but he is filled with disgust.

Next Count Orlok sets his fangs on Ellen (Greta Schroeder), Hutter's wife, who has "a lovely neck."  But when she gives herself willingly to him, he bursts into flame.  This is perhaps the first time in history where a same-sex liaison increases one's vigor, but a heterosexual liaison is fatal.

Shadow of the Vampire, directed by E. Elias Merhige (2000) recreates the filming of Nosferatu, with John Malkovich as an aggressively heterosexual Murnau.

Costume designer Albin (gay actor Udo Kier) and cinematographer Fritz (Cary Elwes) discover that Max Schreck really is a vampire, and Murnau knew it all along.  Unfortunately, they are both killed before the vampire exploes.  But at least Murnau got his movie.

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