Thursday, 16 July 2015

Skulls, Nosferatu, and Film Legend: Murnau's Skull (Night's Black Agents)

By now many of you will have heard that legendary silent film director F.W. Murnau's skull has been stolen from its resting place in Stahnsdorf, Germany. 'Satanists' have been blamed, which is a convenient short form for 'half-witted jackass.'

Murnau, director of such classics as Nosferatu, Faust, The Last Laugh and The Haunted Castle, was one of the preeminent figures of the German Expressionist film movement. Though he worked until his death in a car accident in 1931, producing over twenty features, Nosferatu, made in 1922, is by far his best remembered film.

Based on Dracula, but made without seeking permission from Stoker's widow, Nosferatu achieved notoriety thanks to the eerie, and rather ghoulish portrayal of the vampire, Orlok, by Max Schreck. Schreck, an actor more familiar with comic roles, managed to create a vivid, otherworldly vampire in Orlok, one that stuck in the public imagination long after the film was burnt by the widow Stoker for copyright infringement. Though most copies went to the bonfire, a version survived, smuggled and passed on by generations of film buffs and collectors.

The company that made Nosferatu, Prana Films, did not survive Stoker's holocaust. However Murnau was made of tougher stuff. In the war, he'd fought as a pilot, surviving eight crashes; what was a mere financial setback compared to that? He went across the water to start a new career in Hollywood, becoming one of the first recipients of the then newly-created Oscars, for his 1927 film Sunrise, often hailed by critics as the greatest film of all time. His early death in 1931 robbed us of a great talent.

As far as the robbery goes, the police have yet to recover the skull. Droplets of wax at the site have led to speculation that the skull was stolen for ritual purposes. Frankly, this is rubbish. Possibly it was stolen by would-be occultists, but as a rule, skulls aren't particularly useful in ritual magic. However they make excellent set dressing, so it's entirely possible that someone with a flair for the dramatic decided that Murnau's skull would make an excellent adornment for whatever it might be they have planned. Mind you, that could apply as equally to a death metal band as to spotty teenage Satanists. Incidentally, without scientific examination one skull looks very much like another to the untrained observer; I would expect a few Murnau fakes to turn up, over time.

Regular readers will recall that this isn't the first time skulls have come up. However the missing skull in that instance was probably stolen by phrenologists hoping to learn more from the shape and bumps on the skull, and phrenology has long been exploded as a pseudoscience.

All that said, who in the Night's Black Agents world would want Murnau's skull, and to what purpose?

A collector might want it, someone with a love of early silent cinema. Owning a piece of Murnau would be like catnip for a truly deranged completist. Expect the lair of someone such as this to be full of movie memorabilia, from posters to autographs to original prints. Perhaps several of Murnau's lost films, like Four Devils, could be found in this person's vaults. This role could as easily suit a Renfield, or a mortal, as one of the Undead. As a twist, perhaps the ultimate collector is insulted that someone else stole Murnau's skull, and is out for revenge.

A necromancer might want it, to summon up the ghost of Murnau himself. This might be done to learn more about the silent film era, or about Nosferatu itself. Perhaps this person thinks that Schreck wasn't the main actor at all; it's long been rumored that Nosferatu was played by an actual vampire. A vampire hunter might see this as a means of tracking down prey he's been seeking for a very long time. An alternate version would have a necromantic film lover put the whole gang back together, all the cast and as many crew as can be unearthed.


  • Perhaps a would-be vampire hunter thinks that dust from Murnau's bones would make a great bane, for a certain kind of vampire. 
  • The Conspiracy may have found a way to resurrect the dead, and one of them thinks that Murnau would make an excellent subject. 
  • Someone hoping to please a Conspiracy asset may have dug it up as the ultimate gift for her beloved. 
  • Perhaps Murnau himself became a vampire, and his early death was a cover; if his secret's been discovered, someone might have dug down to see what really is hidden in Murnau's grave. 
  • Perhaps the ghost - or the something else - of Greta Garbo decided to unearth it, to make a companion piece with the Murnau death mask that Garbo kept with her. 
  • Ordinary would-be occultists, or kids, dug it up, and now they're the target of a very annoyed Conspiracy asset who doesn't like having his idol's grave disturbed.
That's it for now. Enjoy!

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