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|First appearance||Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens|
|Created by||F. W. Murnau|
|Portrayed by||Max Schreck
Count Orlok (German: Graf Orlok) is the main antagonist and title character portrayed by Max Schreck in the classic 1922 silent film Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. He was based on Bram Stoker's character Count Dracula.
In Nosferatu, Count Orlok is a vampire from Transylvania, and is known as "The Bird of Death", who feasts upon the blood of living humans. He is believed to have been created by Belial, the lieutenant demon of Satan.
Orlok dwells alone in a vast castle hidden among the rugged peaks in a lost corner of the Carpathian Mountains. The castle is swathed in shadows, and is badly neglected with a highly sinister feel to it. He is in league with the housing agent Knock, and wants to purchase a house in Wisborg. Local peasants live in terror of Orlok and never venture out after dark. Thomas Hutter scorns their fears as mere superstition, and ventures to the decrepit castle; however, the coach-driver will not take him over the bridge leading to it. A black-swathed figure in a black coach (Orlok in disguise) drives him the rest of the way. He is greeted by Orlok, who claims that as it is past midnight all his servants have gone to bed, and the two dine together and discuss Orlok's purchasing of a house in the fictional city of Wisborg, Germany. Hutter accidentally cuts his thumb when slicing bread and Orlok is barely able to control himself from drinking from Hutter's wound. After Hutter collapses in a chair, Orlok feeds off of him, but this is not shown on screen: Hutter discovers two bites on his neck the next day but attributes them to mosquitoes, unaware at this point that his host is actually a vampire.
Hutter only realises the horrific truth later in his chambers after further reading from "The Book of the Vampires", and he discovers that he is trapped in the castle with the Nosferatu. Orlok advances upon Hutter, and Hutter's beloved wife, Ellen, senses through telepathy that her husband's life is in mortal danger; she screams for him and somehow Orlok is powerless to touch him. The next morning Hutter searches the castle, and discovers to his revulsion that Orlok is "sleeping" in the basement in a filthy coffin filled with earth. Hutter then witnesses Orlok loading a cart with several coffins filled with soil, one of which he then hides in and they are driven off to be loaded on to a ship headed for Wisborg. This soil is later revealed to be unhallowed earth from Orlok's own grave; according to "The Book of the Vampires", Nosferatu must sleep by day in the unholy earth from their graves to sustain their power.
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 and then Count Orlok creeps up on him and kills the captain. His journey by sea spreads plague all over Europe.
Upon his arrival in Wisborg, Orlok infests the city with rats that sleep in his coffins, and countless people fall victim to the plague, forcing the local authorities to declare a quarantine and provoking hysteria among the citizens. Rather than come back as vampires, however, his victims simply die. Ellen and Hutter know the causes of the plague but fear they are powerless to stop the vampire. Ellen watches sullenly as lines of coffins are carried through the empty streets, and she realises Orlok must be stopped. Ellen learns from "The Book of the Vampires" that – rather than a stake through the heart – the Nosferatu can only be vanquished if a woman pure in heart willingly allows him to feed off her long enough to prevent him from seeking shelter from sunrise. Ellen coaxes Orlok to her room and lies in bed whilst he drinks from her neck. The sun rises, and Orlok is burned away in a cloud of smoke. Knock is able to sense Orlok is dead. Ellen dies soon after.
After Prana Film negotiations with the Stoker's rightsholders failed, the screenwriter Galeen had to disguise (but the manoeuvre proved to be ineffective, as the company was sued for plagiarism) most references of the original novel, changing all the character's names, and the film's title to Nosferatu. A suggested origin: an alteration of ordog (correctly ördög, Hungarian for devil) a recurring expression in Stoker's novel. Another influence could be Stéphen Orlac, the protagonist of the contemporary and successful novel Les mains d'Orlac, by Maurice Renard.
Orlok is the main model for a style of fictional vampire that is often nicknamed Nosferatu after the movie. Although based upon Count Dracula, Orlok possesses none of his predecessor's aristocratic charm or seductiveness. He resembles historical folklore accounts of vampires, which were described as walking corpses inhabited by a demonic presence. He sleeps in "unhallowed" soil infected with the Black Death, and brings plague and disease with him. He is followed everywhere by rats, traditional carriers of the feared Black Death. Orlok is famous for being the first vampire in history to be destroyed by sunlight. In earlier folklore, vampires were disgusted by, but could survive sunlight.
- The character is parodied in the Brazilian comedy film Nosferato no Brazil (1971, directed by Ivan Cardoso): the vampire harasses the sexy bathing-beauties that "haunt" the shores of Rio de Janeiro.
- The 1979 film Nosferatu the Vampyre was a remake of the original. Some of the characters reverted to their original Stoker names, including Dracula, but he was based on the Orlok variation. Dracula was portrayed by Klaus Kinski as a pathetic, lonely creature yearning for human love. Unlike the original character, however, he is merely incapacitated by sunlight and later killed by Van Helsing while paralyzed.
- In Czechoslovak comedy film, Upír z Feratu (1982, directed by Juraj Herz) the Ferat is a brand of a vampiric sport cars manufacturer.
- In Kim Newman's novel Anno Dracula, Orlok serves in the Carpathian Guards of Dracula and is the Governor of the Tower of London. Orlok appears as part of the German forces, along with other silent film characters such as Doctor Caligari and Doctor Mabuse, trying to create the Red Baron in Newman's sequel, The Bloody Red Baron.
- In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night there is a boss called Count Olrox who is based on Count Orlok. In the game, he is described as a magic-wielding vampire who rules upper part of Dracula's castle, an area called "Olrox's Quarters". Olrox has two forms: his human form and his true vampire form. After Alucard, the player's character, defeats both forms, a Life Vessel and the Echo of Bat Relic can be obtained. In Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, there is an equipment item called Olrox's Suit which is described as an armored suit once worn by Count Olrox. The suit also appears in Castlevania: Harmony of Despair where it can only be used by characters Soma Cruz and Alucard. Count Olrox also appears as the main antagonist in the Castlevania novel Akumajō Dracula: Kabuchi no Tsuisōkyoku which takes place after the events of Aria of Sorrow. A creature that looks very similar to Count Orlok appears frozen in the background of the ice level in Castlevania Chronicles.
- The 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire presented a fictional account of the filming of Nosferatu in which Max Schreck (played by Willem Dafoe) is actually a vampire.
- In the 2003 video game Nosferatu: The Wrath of Malachi, the unnamed vampire count is modeled after Orlok and dies after being exposed to sunlight.
- The 2004 White Wolf Publishing video game Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines features a sect of vampires which are stylistically very similar to Count Orlok, and are dubbed the 'Nosferatu'.
- Count Orlok appeared in the "Graveyard Shift" episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, being mistakenly called Nosferatu.
- The character Incognito from the first anime adaption of Hellsing was based on Count Orlok.
- The character look of Count Orlok was the inspiration for the main antagonist (The Master) of the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Joe Hill's fourth novel NOS4A2 takes inspiration from the film in its title and its main antagonist, Charles Talent Manx III, who physically resembles Orlok. In the book, Manx is described possessing the bald head, ratlike overbite, elongated fingernails and predatory nature of Orlok, as well as a military coat made in a similar style to that worn by Orlok when travelling at sea. Manx accompanied his wife to a screening of the original movie; when she later compared him to Orlok, he commemorated her insult by appending the licence plate "NOS4A2" to his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith.