The head of “Nosferatu” director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, better known as F.W. Murnau, has been stolen from his grave in Germany, possibly as part of an occult ritual, according to reports.
Damage to the gravesite was discovered on Monday, and Murnau’s skull was missing from his iron coffin, which sits in a chamber below a marker for the filmmaker and his two brothers at the Stahnsdorf South-Western Cemetery, about 12 miles from Berlin.
Wax drippings found at the scene have led to speculation in the German media that occultists may have taken the head.
“There was a candle … a photo session or a celebration or whatever in the night. It really isn’t clear,” cemetery manager Olaf Ihlefeldt told the Washington Post.
“We cannot rule out… an occult background,” said a police spokesman, per German broadcaster n-tv.
Ihlefeldt told the Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten newspaper, however, that the head may have just been stolen by souvenir seekers, and not occultists.
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“We have received this news with disbelief,” documentary film director Ernst Szebedits, managing director of the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, told NBC News. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Murnau’s grave has been disturbed several times, and his iron coffin has been damaged in the past.
The coffins of his two brothers, which share the chamber, were reportedly opened but the bodies undisturbed in the recent break-in. Authorities believe it took place between July 4 and 12, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
German newspaper Der Spiegel reports that the cemetery is considering either sealing the chamber permanently or burying the remains to prevent further disturbances.
Murnau, who died after a car accident in California in 1931 at the age of 42, was an early pioneer of silent film.
He was known for his dramatic use of camera angles long before other filmmakers embraced such techniques.
“To me the camera represents the eye of a person, through whose mind one is watching the events on the screen,” he wrote in 1928. “It must whirl and peep and move from place to place as swiftly as thought itself.”
Yet for all his mastery, only 12 of his 21 films have survived the years and many are incomplete or damaged.
One of those missing movies, “4 Devils,” is considered one of the greatest “lost” films of all time.
His silent film “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” won three Academy Awards in 1929, the first time the honors were presented, including one for “Unique and Artistic Picture,” the only time the award was given out.
It’s also included in the National Film Registry.
Murnau, however, is best remembered for his 1922 vampire film”Nosferatu,” an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” which led to a lawsuit from the author’s widow.
She won, and all prints of the film were ordered destroyed. But some bootleg copies survived, and it remains one of the most influential silent films and iconic horror movies of all time.
“Here is the story of Dracula before it was buried alive in clichés, jokes, TV skits, cartoons and more than 30 other films,” wrote Roger Ebert in 1997. “The film is in awe of its material. It seems to really believe in vampires.”
Ebert said the film doesn’t use any of the modern tricks that make audiences jump or scream, but it didn’t need them.
“It doesn’t scare us, but it haunts us,” he wrote. “It shows not that vampires can jump out of shadows, but that evil can grow there, nourished on death.”
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