Nosferatu turned up in SpongeBob

Nosferatu turned up in SpongeBob

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Acentury ago, [Nosferatu’s vile villain Count Orlok became an icon] when he walked through a doorway, eyes frenzied and claws menacing, to drain his victim’s blood. But just 20 years ago, the same character was revealed as the little scamp scaring SpongeBob SquarePants and Squidward by flicking the lights of the Krusty Krab on and off. It’s a great SpongeBob joke, but the non sequitur, which removes the vampire from his original movie and any semblance of context, also illustrates Nosferatu’s role as a pop-culture reference. SpongeBob helped keep the 1922 film alive (or undead) in the public eye. As SpongeBob writer and storyboard director Jay Lender tells Polygon, that random visual gag in the season 2 episode “Graveyard Shift” was probably the first encounter most of its viewers had with the silent classic. “Graveyard Shift,” which regularly places in the top 5 in [ranked lists] of [SpongeBob’s best episodes], first aired on September 6, 2002. The 11-minute installment sees SpongeBob and Squidward working the night shift at the Krusty Krab, to the former’s delight and the latter’s dismay. Squidward entertains himself by frightening SpongeBob with a scary story about a “hash-slinging slasher,” but then the mysterious omens he made up about the killer start actually happening, terrifying them both. Fortunately, it turns out that all the signs of his impending arrival have a mundane explanation — except for the flickering lights. In the episode’s final seconds, it’s revealed that the titular vampire from Nosferatu — depicted using a slightly altered and crudely animated still from F.W. Murnau’s 1922 live-action horror classic film, has been turning off the lights as a joke. “Nos-fer-a-tu!” SpongeBob and Squidward say, affectionately, as if they hang out with him all the time. “Nosferatu” smiles. The episode ends. No further explanation.

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Count Orlok wasn’t originally supposed to be the culprit. Lender says that in an earlier draft of the episode, after SpongeBob excitedly lists work tasks he can now do at night (flipping patties, swabbing the bathroom, and burning his hand), there was going to be a fourth joke, where he delivered the mail to Floorboard Harry — a previously unseen, unmentioned creature that apparently just lives underneath the Krusty Krab. Then at the end of the episode, it was going to be Floorboard Harry flipping the light switch. (Lender shared a few Post-It Note sketches of Floorboard Harry with Polygon.) But the “at night” joke already fulfilled the comedy rule of threes, so the fourth bit with Floorboard Harry got cut. This meant his appearance at the end wouldn’t be a callback, just a totally random image. It wasn’t quite good enough. Luckily, another, better idea popped into Lender’s head. Four sketches on yellow Post-It notes, showing SpongeBob lifting a chunk of the Krusty Krab’s floor, handing mail to an unseen creature in the dark, closing the panel, and later looking to see something at the light switch, hiding behind that same chunk of floorboard. Lender says that when he was a kid, he was a big fan of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland.

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