Count Orlok is the main antagonist of the 1922 classic silent horror film, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, as well as its 1987 and 2016 remakes.
He was portrayed by the late Max Schreck in the original film, and by Doug Jones in the 2017 remake.
Orlok is one of the most iconic monsters of classic horror - rivaling Dracula, Godzilla, Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man. In this regard, he is also notable for being more faithful in many ways to the traditional representation of vampires in folklore, being a hideous demonic creature rather than an attractive gentleman.
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
Count Orlok first poses as a nobleman from the Carpathian Mountains who moves to the city of Wisborg in Germany - he brings death with him as a result of his vampiric nature. He lives in a ruined castle high in the mountains and local townsfolk refuse to go anywhere near this castle, save for the film's protagonist, the young Thomas Hutter, the assistant of a Wisborg estate agent, who travels to his castle to show properties for sale in Wisborg.
Orlok conceals himself in one of his soil-filled coffins and is loaded onto a ship bound for Wisborg. On board the ship, he kills every crew member until only the captain and his first mate remain. Later when the first mate goes to the cargo hold to investigate, Count Orlok rises from his coffin, terrifying the first mate who jumps overboard in fear. The captain ties himself to the wheel of the ship when Count Orlok creeps up on him and kills him.
Upon his arrival in Wisborg, he spreads disease and plague, forcing the local authorities to declare a quarantine and provoking hysteria amongst the citizens.
Orlok stalks and attacks Hutter's young wife, Ellen, in her room, but during the pleasure of drinking her blood, he is caught unaware by the rays of the rising sun. When he heard the crowing of a rooster, he suddenly realised his own flaw and was caught in the sunlight, which burn him away in a cloud of smoke, killing him and ending his reign of terror.
Count Orlok was an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker's famous Count Dracula - however due to the studio being unable to obtain rights to Dracula they opted for making their own character, in the end the two vampires would become very different beings as Dracula would become known for his gentlemanly charm and cunning while Count Orlok would come to embody the much more demonic, diseased side of vampire lore (ironically Count Orlok is actually much more faithful to true vampire mythology than Dracula - save for the weakness to sunlight, which was added to the film and later became a staple of vampire fiction).
Characters Inspired By Count Orlok
Count Orlok has inspired an entire subspecies of vampire also known as Nosferatus (in honor of the film) - these beings tend to be more monstrous looking and vicious than the more human-like vampires seen in other fiction: they are also normally more demonic than normal vampires too, midway between a vampire and a mutant.
- The Master (This Buffy villain was a prime example of a Nosferatu in popular culture and was obviously inspired by Count Orlok.)
- Olrox (Count Orlok's Castlevania counterpart, who looks the same and has the same name (albeit mistakenly romanized) and shares it's original counterpart's similarities with Dracula.)
- Freddy Krueger (Although it seems strange at first, the slasher icon Freddy Krueger was inspired by Count Orlok - most likely the talon-like hands.)
- Max Schreck - A fictionalization of the actor (portrayed by movie star William DeFoe) who played Orlok, amalgamated with Orlok himself, in the feature film 'Shadow Of The Vampire', in which the fact that Schreck is a real vampire is kept from the other crew members by 'Nosferatu' Director FW Murnau.
- Count Orlok appeared on the Spongebob Squarepants episode Graveyard Shift, trying to scare SpongeBob and Squidward by flicking the light switch on and off, being referenced as "Nosferatu." The other characters, not scared but amused by this, shame him and then he smiles. By default, He's the only SpongeBob villain who is pure evil, even though he didn't do much evil in Spongebob despite playing a creepy prank on Spongebob and Squidward which really frightened them.
- Count Orlok is the first vampiric image in film, preceding even that of Dracula, the inspiration of the film and of Orlok.
- Count Orlok is responsible for the myth that vampires turn to dust if caught in direct sunlight - which arguably makes him one of the greatest influences in modern vampire lore.
- Imagery of Orlok from Nosferatu appears prominently in the music video presentation of the collaboration between David Bowie and Queen, 'Under Pressure'. Bowie himself once played a vampire in the feature film The Hunger.
- In some prints of Nosferatu Orlok was given back the name of the character he was based and the other characters were given back the names of their Bram Stoker equivalent.
- In the 1979 remake of Nosferatu, some of the characters reverted to their original Stoker names, including Dracula. However despite being based on both Dracula and Orlok this version was portrayed as a tragic figure yearning for human love unlike Dracula and Orlok who were presented as pure evil.