Book lifts lid on star of eerie first Dracula film

Fri May 9, 2008 2:52pm EDT
 
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By Dave Graham

BERLIN (Reuters) - The first screen portrayal of Dracula was so eerie, some critics asked whether the actor himself could be a vampire. But since his death, little has been done to resurrect Max Schreck's reputation -- until now.

Schreck is best remembered for playing the cadaverous vampire Count Orlok in F.W. Murnau's 1922 silent classic "Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror," the first, unauthorized cinematic adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula."

The rest of his career has been largely forgotten -- unjustly, in the view of German author Stefan Eickhoff, who has written what he says is the first biography of Schreck.

"Whoever hopes to discover a vampire will be disappointed, but they will find an actor of real skill and versatility," said Eickhoff. "Yet he himself remains somewhat shrouded in mystery."

"Nosferatu" failed to make its lead a star, but achieved such cult status that some film scholars speculated his name -- Schreck means "fear" or "fright" in German -- was a pseudonym.

In 1953, Greek-born critic Adonis Kyrou mischievously asked in his book "Le Surrealisme au Cinema" whether the actor was a vampire. The idea caught hold and later inspired a film.

Despite years of research, Eickhoff found there were virtually no anecdotes featuring Schreck, nor any references to him in the memoirs of the many people he had worked with.

Instead, Eickhoff's biography provides a detailed chronicle of the career of Schreck, a civil servant's son who appeared in around 800 stage and screen roles. Glimpses into the man behind the actor's mask remain few and far between.   Continued...

 
<p>Max Schreck as Count Orlok in a scene from F.W. Murnau's 1922 silent classic "Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror". The first screen portrayal of Dracula was so eerie, some critics asked whether the actor himself could be a vampire. But since his death, little has been done to resurrect Schreck's reputation -- until now. REUTERS/Handout/File</p>