Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau was a pioneering German film director whose work inspired countless directors and artists throughout the world. Murnau’s silent drama film named Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, filmed in 1927, won the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Picture at the first Academy Award ceremony in 1929. It is considered as one of the best films ever made.
However, Murnau’s best-known work is his 1922 film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s acclaimed romantic horror novel Dracula. Murnau’s studio failed to obtain the rights to the Stoker’s novel, so the adaptation was titled “Nosferatu” to avoid copyright issues. The word Nosferatu replaced the term “vampire,” and Count Dracula became Count Orlok.
The film is still considered as one of the best horror films ever made. Its technical perfection and unique eerie atmosphere sparked the trend of experimental and atmospheric horror films.
Murnau died in in 1931, aged 42. His untimely death was a result of a fatal car accident which occurred on the Pacific Coast Highway near Los Angeles, California. Murnau was traveling in a hired Rolls-Royce which was driven by his 14-year old Filipino servant. The servant’s lack of driving skills caused him to crash the car into an electric pole, and Murnau sustained severe head injuries and died the next day. He died only a week before his critically acclaimed film “Tabu: A Story of the South Seas” premiered in American cinemas.
Murnau’s death was a devastating blow for the film community. He was buried in Stahnsdorf near Berlin, Germany, and only 11 people attended his funeral, including Robert J. Flaherty, Fritz Lang, and Greta Garbo. Garbo was so inspired by Murnau’s work that she commissioned Murnau’s death mask and kept it for the rest of her life.
Murnau’s remains rested in peace until 2015, when unknown individuals proved that his legacy inspired not only the creators of fictional horror but also those who were fascinated with the occult.
Namely, in July 2015 someone broke into his grave and desecrated his remains. The police discovered that Murnau’s skull was missing from the grave, and the residue of wax candles was found around the remaining bones.
This led the authorities to speculate that Murnau’s skeleton was possibly used in an occult ritual and that his skull is now in the hands of a devoted and demented fan.
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So far nobody has been persecuted for the heinous crime, and the whereabouts of the cult director’s skull have remained unknown.