This terrifying silent film of Dracula made by Murnau in 1922 is a masterpiece of German expressionist art. It is a hugely original creation, with a vampire who looks like a ghoul or rat-man prowling about, casting deathly shadows. In fact the appearance of Nosferatu’s undead creature echoes such expressionist paintings as Munch’s Scream and Schoenberg’s self-portraits. Like these expressionists, Murnau uses grotesque and strange images to touch the inner mind.
Vampire legends originally come from eastern Europe, while Frankenstein’s monster was invented by Mary Shelley and horror stories about mummies are Victorian. But the werewolf is west European folklore and so has the oldest artistic associations. This 16th-century woodcut by one of the greatest German Renaissance artists depicts a werewolf terrorising German villagers nearly 500 years ago. A wild man crawling on all fours has emerged from the forest to prey on human flesh. It must be true, I saw it in the woodcut news.
This ancient near eastern demon is part of the mythology of the first cities. The early urban societies of Mesopotamia believed in powerful deities of sexuality and magic. But Pazuzu started a second life in 1973 when his resemblance to a devil from European art made him the face of evil in William Friedkin’s horror film The Exorcist. The film starts with Max von Sydow staring at a statue of this demon in a windswept ruined city, knowing he is looking at the devil.
The savage creature who snarls at a terrified woman in this painting is in theory a classical Satyr, but looks more like a werewolf. It is surely a fusion of the two beliefs. Werewolves were a living folk belief in 16th-century Italy when Dossi painted this at the court of Ferrara. Peasants believed they had to fight werewolves at night to protect their crops. Dosso Dossi goes to the dark heart of the werewolf myth, as he paints the beast in man.