It could be said that FW Murnau really used his head to direct Nosferatu, the German expressionist masterpiece now regarded as one of the best horror films of all time. And now, very unsettlingly, it seems someone else is using FW Murnau’s head.
The director was interred, after his death in a car crash near Santa Barbara in 1931, ostensibly with a head. But now, Variety reports that said head has been removed from his metal coffin in his family plot in Stahnsdorf, just outside Berlin. Notably, it was only his grave that was robbed — his brothers’ coffins were not tampered with. Even more disconcertingly, traces of wax were reportedly found by the grave, indicating potential “occult” practices nearby.
Nosferatu follows real estate agent Thomas Hutter’s entry into the castle of the vampiric Count Orlock (a renamed Dracula) to close a deal on a property — which, unbeknownst to Hutter, Orlok uses to wreak havoc on the town of Wisborg.
Because of its high status within the horror canon, the film itself bears a level of fanciful mystery. It’s fun imagining it as actually linked to the occult, as the Willem Dafoe film Shadow of a Vampire did with its fictitious telling of the making of Nosferatu, envisioning Orlock actor Max Schreck as a real vampire.
The history of hard copies of the film is itself, also curious. Because Nosferatu was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Stoker’s widow filed a lawsuit, and the court ruled that all copies of the film be destroyed — and yet some copies remained… undead.
Perhaps since the film is both iconic and prone to people’s own fantasies about its making, this isn’t the first time an incident of the sort has occurred at the director’s grave — allegedly the cemetery may build a wall around the site for protection.
Alas, who knows the intent of the head-thieves? Hopefully time won’t tell.