Book Review: NOSFERATU: THE UNTOLD ORIGIN
By Jonathan Stryker
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's 1922 film NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORROR holds a special place for me as I become aware of it when I was just two years into my love of the horror film genre. I had read about the film in Darrell W. Moore's "The Best, Worst, and Most Unusual Horror Films," a book that I purchased in 1983 which became my bible for all things horror.
On Independence Day in 1985, after making a VHS copy of Wes Craven's A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (sorry Media Home Entertainment!), I headed to Holly Park Video with the hope of finding another classic horror film to savor on tape. While perusing the titles I noticed a VHS prerecorded copy of NOSFERATU by Kartes Video Communications through their Film Classics Video label on VHS sitting on the shelf, but it was only available for purchase, not for rental.
The oversized clamshell box caught my eye because it retailed for $19.95, far lower than the $79.95 price tag of VHS tapes that were sold only to rental stores. I eagerly bought it up and was struck by the fact that although the film was sixty-three years old, it was still very effective and creepy.
I was not the only person to have been affected by the film. Louis J. Pesci, the author of the beautiful and lavishly illustrated book NOSFERATU: THE UNTOLD ORIGIN, is another one of those people, and he has created a beautiful book all about Count Orlok.
A work of fiction from the author's imagination with historical embellishment, NOSFERATU: THE UNTOLD ORIGIN begins in the 15th century in Europe wherein Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor at the time, issues a decree that practitioners of witchcraft and all peoples whose beliefs run contrary to Roman Catholicism be burned at the stake. Count Orlok, believing wholeheartedly in The Word of God, seeks out Elsa the Witch and tries to convince her to renounce her evil ways or risk certain death. She chooses the latter, knowing full well that she will place a curse on him and haunt him for all eternity.
What follows is a creepy and very atmospheric tale of the life of Count Orlok, who must now roam the earth looking for human blood to keep himself going. A moment of palpable tension occurs when the Orlok, weak from a lack of human blood, lies in a dungeon as a large spider takes up residence over one of his opened eyes for eight hours. Get it off!!!!
Below are two samples from the book which is illustrated with hundreds of similarly beautiful and truly frightening images, all designed and drawn by Mr. Pecsi.
What makes the story such a stand-out is how it begins with Orlok as a human being, believing whole-heartedly in the Emperor's decree, and subsequently finding himself to be cursed for all eternity by Elsa, the witch whom he tries to persuade to change her mind and give up her witchcraft.
The text is very well-written and keeps you guessing as to what is around the corner for Count Orlok. I must admit that the book gave me a great deal of sympathy for this poor man who has become the stuff of horror film legend, and whose look has influenced so many vampires, among them Klaus Kinski and Reggie Nalder in NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979) and SALEM'S LOT (1979) respectively. There are plenty of truly creepy images in this book, primarily the depictions of Elsa the Witch, looking horrific after she is hanged from a tree. The images are so creepy that they remind me of Andrew Prewett's cover art for the British horror sound effects records which always unnerved me when I was a child due to their explicit depictions of torture.
Max Schreck's portrayal of Nosferatu in the 1922 film version is arguably the most unnerving screen version of the vampire and has haunted countless nightmares over the past eighty years. To write a book about his origins was a truly terrific maneuver. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy.
You can order the book here. There are also some neat posters and accessories that can be purchased here in addition to the book, so be sure to have a look!
Check back soon for my interview with the book's author, Louis J. Pecsi. Here is his Facebook page.
Spiral Bookcase, Manyunk, Pa. Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m.
The Comic Station, Haddon Heights, Oct. 29 from noon to 2 p.m.
Check out the article, "Rowan graduate gives vampire, 'Nosferatu', a beginning" by Kelly Roncace/Gloucester County Times
Interview with graphic novelist Louis J. Pecsi
I'm thrilled to have graphic novelist Louis J. Pecsi, author and illustrator of Nosferatu The Untold Origin, with me as a guest today. He's been drawing since childhood and has created various effects for TV commercials and independent films. His newest project is a book that's a beautifully illustrated prequel to the classic 1922 film Nosferatu, featuring the iconic vampire Count Orlok.
Catherine Karp: Thanks for joining me, Louis. Please tell us a little about the storyline of your novel.
Louis J. Pecsi: Nosferatu the Untold Origin begins with the 15th-century crusader Count Orlok, who must burn, Elsa, a powerful witch at the stake for her refusal to worship the God of Rome.
As Elsa’s flesh is consumed, she places a curse upon Count Orlok, which transforms him into Nosferatu the vampire. As Nosferatu, Count Orlok finds himself an outcast in the village that bears his name. In an attempt to seek answers, Orlok journeys to Dracula’s castle and finds Dracula suffers from a similar curse. Unable to find a cure for his affliction, Orlok begins a 4oo-year journey that leads him to encounter ghosts, spirits, and even Van Helsing, a vampire slayer, who proves to be responsible for slaying his friend Dracula.
CK: The book contains nearly 300 full-color paintings. How would you describe the artwork?
LJP: I guess the best way to describe my art for the book is as an homage to the silent movie and my attempts as an artist to evolve into the direction of utilizing the tools of the digital age.
CK: How did you find the inspiration to create so many illustrations? How long did it take to produce them?
LJP: The art is inspired by the silent movie with its usage of heavy grease paints on the actor’s faces, which I tried to translate into the look of my book. I also looked at some of the German surreal art from that time for inspiration (I really like the original silent movie poster for Nosferatu). The art actually took close to two years to create. The art was drawn and painted by hand using a computer as a medium. The techniques I am developing I call digital paint. The reason I use this term is to clearly separate my art from the word computer graphic, which most people think of as the computer creating the finished art.
CK: What was it about the film Nosferatu that stayed with you and inspired you to create this graphic novel?
LJP: First and foremost it is one of my favorite films. I feel the look of the vampire, Count Orlok, is one of the most frightening depictions of the undead ever conceived of for the silver screen. With that notion in mind, I watched the film and wanted to create a back story for the character that would depict him as his own vampire and not a mere copy of Dracula (which is what Nosferatu originally was and also the reason Bram Stoker’s widow won a lawsuit against the distributors of Nosferatu).
CK: Are you a fan of vampires in general, or is your love of the genre mainly due to this particular story?
LJP: I am a fan of the vampire genre. I prefer most of the older films (1920s up to the 70s). One of my favorite vampire films isDracula (1979), starring Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier . This film truly captured the essence of Dracula and the mythos that surround him, including his ability to transform into a bat (this film contains one of the best bat transformations put on film).
CK: You've said, "One of my best pieces of effects work is an old man makeup I created for a short adaptation of Poe’s 'The Tell-Tale Heart.'" I'm a huge fan of Poe myself, so I'd love to hear more about your work on this project.
LJP: My job on this film was to create the special makeup effects, which involved turning a twenty-two-year-old actor into an aging old man with a milky white eye. The makeup was sculpted out of clay and molded out of foam pieces. All together it took about 6 hours to apply and looked hellishly real. It was an incredibly rewarding project.
CK: Do you work mainly in the realm of horror, or do you enjoy other genres, as well?
LJP: I enjoy all genres, but horror and science fiction are my favorites.
CK: Where can readers learn more about you and Nosferatu the Untold Origin?
LJP: Visit our website: nosferatuorigins.com or nosferatutheuntoldorigin.com.