At first glance, the title of the AMC show NOS4A2, out June 2, is bewildering. Is it a word? Is it a plane? No — it's actually a ridiculously clever pun that manages to tie in two of the show's main themes: vampires and cars (and vampires in cars).
Sound the numbers and letters of NOS4A2 out, and the word "Nosferatu" emerges. Ever since the classic 1922 German movie Nosferatu, the word "Nosferatu" has been synonymous with "vampire." The word likely stems from the Romanian nesuferitul ("the insufferable one") or the Greek nosophoros ("plague-carrier").
The slickly dressed Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto) of NOS4A2 barely resembles the bald, big-eared, bloodthirsty vampire of Nosferatu, but they share the same penchant for sucking the life force of their victims.
NOS4A2 is a spin on the classic vampire myth, just like the movie Nosferatu once was. Producer Albin Grau wanted to create a movie based on Dracula, but author Bram Stoker refused to sell the rights. So, Grau tried to avoid copyright infringement by changing Stoker's source material significantly — in Nosferatu, for example, the vampire Count Orlock burns up in the sun, whereas the sun only weakens Dracula. By trying to outrun the most famous vampire story, Grau ended up establishing vampire canon.
Since Nosferatu, vampires have been interpreted by pop culture over and over, with small tweaks in the mythology from Twilight to True Blood. But there's never been a vampire like Charlie Manx. With NOS4A2, Joe Hill, who wrote the original 2013 novel, wanted to reinvent the vampire wheel entirely.
"We’ve had so much vampire that instead of being frightening they become banal. The question was, how to reinvent the vampire myth in a way that feels fresh and scary again," Hill told Refinery29. "What do you get rid of? What do you keep?"
Hill preserved the vampire's end-goal, but changed his execution. In Hill's version of the Dracula myth, the vampire isn't after blood — he's after the souls of children.
"The key aspect of vampires that we find frightening is that they’re creatures that drain the life force away from their victims. They drain away everything's that’s good inside a person. When they’re done, there’s nothing left but this monstrous servant with a mouth and fangs," Hill said. "That's what Dracula does to his icy bride and that’s what Charlie Manx does to his children."
Charles whisks children away to a place called Christmasland, where it's always Christmas, and where children can never get hurt. He preys on them during the trip to Christmasland.
"He takes them for a long ride in a Rolls Royce Wraith. Gradually, both he and the car feed off them, growing younger and stronger. Meanwhile the kids are drained of all their disappointments, regrets, and sorrow. When Charlie’s done there’s nothing left but gleeful happiness and peace," Hill said. The kids become monsters, too.
Though he's foreboding, Charlie also has a grim sense of humor. He references his spiritual predecessors with the NOS4A2 license plate. Beware the Wraith.