At a party long ago, a bleary-eyed co-worker began talking about dragons. He was drunkenly regurgitating a theory that all humans were evolved from aquatic apes whose main predators were big cats, giant lizards and birds. The dragon was the combination of protohumans’ biggest fears, and through millions of years of evolution it became a shared residual nightmare.

In an age when we're bombarded with onscreen horrors, what nightmare creatures will future generations inherit? Will children dream of a Freddie Krueger? A Jason Voorhees? Or a Paula Deen?

Most likely, the monster will look a lot like Count Orlok, the eternally creepy vampire played so effectively by Max Schreck in 1922's Nosferatu that people suspected he really was a vampire (another shared evolutionary trait: People are dumbasses).

The silent film—playing Wednesday with a live original score—isn't just the earliest example of vampire lore transported to the screen. It's also the first full-blown horror flick (with respect to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). Schreck, immersed in director F.W. Murnau's dreary atmosphere, seizes the screen with his spindly fingers. He lodges his pointed ears, sunken eyes and grotesque grin in the viewer's mind. He moves like an ancient predator, creeping through the shadows and into our imaginations.

Ninety years later, Count Orlok is already part of our shared nightmares. The enduringly terrifying character has found his way into nearly every facet of cinematic terror. He burst open the doors of vampire myth and paved the way for everyone from Dracula to those sparkly things we needn't name. He inspired generations of stalkers in the shadows. Without him, we would have no Tall Man in Pan's Labyrinth, no Mr. Burns in The Simpsons. Willem Dafoe might be out of work.

Millions of years from now, when we've evolved into superior beings, children will have nightmares about mysterious creatures: In Japan, they might have long, flowing black hair. In North America, they might sport gloves made of knives. But they'll all have the pointy ears, black eyes and menacing grin of a pasty old vampire from 1922. Mission Theater. 8 pm Wednesday, Oct 30.

Also Showing:

  • In other live-soundtrack news, Portland’s Beth Karp has written one to accompany the 1920 horror flick The Golem. Alberta Rose Theatre. 6 pm Wednesday, Oct. 30.
  • As old Robert Redford sails the seas in All Is Lost, young Redford charms his way into trouble in The Sting. Academy. Nov. 1-7.
  • Before it was a Nicolas Cage punch line, The Wicker Man was a high mark for brain-fuck horror. Hollywood Theatre. Nov. 1-7.
  • With 1931’s M, Fritz Lang made a dreary film—and set the stage for a longtime love affair with onscreen serial killers. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. 4:30 and 7 pm Saturday, Nov. 2.
  • Federico Fellini paints a love letter to himself in 8½, ushering in a generation of masturbatory filmmaking. 5th Avenue Cinema. 8 pm Saturday, Nov. 2.