It's impossible to watch F.W. Murnau's 'Nosferatu' untainted. The 1922 classic is the fertilized, embryonic source of our modern vampires. Bram Stoker set the stage with 'Dracula,' and Murnau's cinematic creation is the sinewy strand that forced itself in to create life -- a race of cinematic bloodsuckers.
The German filmmaker set the visual menace and vampiric rules. Nosferatu is a beast who doesn't look, move or act quite human. His skin appears to be just a little bit different. His teeth are sharp and eager to pierce the skin and devour the ruby-red elixir. He sleeps in coffins, thrives at night and avoids the sun. Rats and darkness follow him, and although he is, in many ways, monstrous, there is also an eager gentleness with him, a thin tendril that links him to humanity. Nosferatu preys on humans, but he's also susceptible to sexual attraction. While most humanity has faded away -- if it ever existed -- lust remains, albeit in a distorted and dangerous package.
'Nosferatu' created the frame for modern vampires to exist, and to meet him is to see Max Schreck's wide-eyed visage through the haze of worthy predecessors and heaps of garbage. But even through the muddy air of imitators and modern sensibilities too refined for early cinematic style, 'Nosferatu' is still magical.