Dracula is not an easy book to adapt. Told in a contemporary form of the epistolary, utilising journals, diaries–one of which is recorded on a phonograph–letters, news clippings, and even a section of a ship’s log, it juggles roughly eleven major and minor characters, five of which lend their voices to the narrative, with most of the flavour and iconic action belonging to the first half of the book. On screen, there are too many characters and relationships to devote enough time to to fully develop (though they are not horribly dense in the novel to begin with) and thusly, many adaptations of the work both combine characters and shuffle their relationships with each other into a more manageable narrative.
This is what both Nosferatu and, naturally, it’s adaptation Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht do. Nosferatu is a minimalist version of Dracula, retaining the original flavour with only a handful of the original characters. In it, the Jonathan Harker of Dracula is turned into the character Hutter; his fiancée Mina into his wife Ellen; Dracula into Count Orlok and the mad Reinfield into Knock. Lucy, her suitors, and her subplot–her seduction and death at Dracula’s hand, her transformation into the “Bloofer Lady” and her sensational second-killing at the hand of her betrothed–are gone, as is the prominent character of Van Helsing, who guides the majority of the novel. Without this character leading the others, it is up to Ellen, the Mina character, to save the city from the vampire and its plague. Unlike her counterpart in the novel, she is not without power, and it is she, not Van Helsing, who becomes informed on the nature of the vampire, and how to kill it. It is this knowledge, paired with her beauty and purity of heart, that overcome the vampire in the end.
Unlike Stoker’s Dracula, Murnau’s vampire Count Orlok is vanquished by Ellen in a stark contrast to the book, in which it is the boys that do all the noble vanquishing of evil. The 1922 date of the film argues that it was not a feminist agenda that changed the plot, but a simple need to streamline and, perhaps (to be quite honest) to keep things from being too boring. Continue reading