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Nosferatu

From the video case: An unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu is a silent classic that reigns as one of the most frightening films to ever cast its shadow upon a silver screen.

Instrumental in the effectiveness of Nosferatu was director F.W. Murnau’s German expressionist approach, a style of filmmaking characterized by shadowy settings and nihilistic themes, exploring the darkened recesses of the human mind with a distinctly imposing visual style.

Rather than depicting Count Dracula as a shape-shifting monster or a debonair gentleman, Murnau’s Graf Orlok (as portrayed by Max Schreck) is a nightmarish, spidery creature of bulbous head and taloned claws, perhaps the most genuinely disturbing incarnation of vampirism the cinema has yet produced. (1922, b&w, silent)

Mark says: I’m doing an injustice to this film by reviewing it on a “B-movie” site, but it certainly qualifies as a horror/cult classic. Let’s be clear from the beginning: Nosferatu is a cinematic work of art, not a drive-in second feature.

So much has been written about Nosferatu and its great direction by F.W. Murnau (Faust, Der Januskopf) that I can do little but echo the applause. It’s place in horror cinema can not be overstated.

Though the acting, by today’s standards, seems marred with the limits of silent film, the overall atmosphere is somber and bleak. Once Max Schreck appears, you are no longer distracted by demonstrative performances.

However, this film is not only a work of German expressionistic art, it’s scary, too.

Take this little test with me. Suppose you are walking down a dark alley, whom would you least like to meet:

a) Bela Lugosi as Dracula?

b) Christopher Lee as Dracula?

c) or, Max Schreck as Count Orlok?

If you’re like me, Bela would make me slightly uneasy, and Mr. Lee may cause me to move to the other side of the alley, but Max Schreck would make me scream and run in the other direction entirely.

Schreck’s portrayal of Orlok is so hideously vile that he invokes disgust even in modern day viewers. Orlok is a monster’s monster, part corpse, part spider, part rat, and completely evil. Even his shadow will give you the creeps. All this without the benefit of sound.

Though Nosferatu is based on Stoker’s Dracula, there are some significant differences. Most strikingly, the use of Christian symbols (primarily the cross) are stripped from Murnau’s film. With the religious overtones removed from the story, it becomes less about a conflict between good and evil, and more about the conflict of human nature.

In Stoker’s novel, Van Helsing plays a tremendously significant role, but in Nosferatu, Bulwer (the Van Helsing equivalent), is reduced to a background player. Bulwer has nothing whatsoever to do with the vampire’s destruction, leaving this responsibility to Ellen.

It’s interesting to note, that Stoker’s widow sued when she saw the obvious similarities to her husband’s story. As a result, all prints of Nosferatu were ordered destroyed. Fortunately for us, prints kept cropping up in other countries, giving us the privilege of enjoying the film in our own homes.

The historic significance of Nosferatu would be enough to give it a top rating, but it’s the artful direction of F.W. Murnau combined with the genuinely chilling performance by Max Schreck that rightfully earns it my highest distinction.

Scene to watch for: Count Orlok wanders the streets toting his coffin.

Quote to watch for: “Not so hasty my young friend! No one escapes his destiny.”

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

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7 Comments

  1. The first, and one of the creepiest!

  2. Back in the 60s there was a television program (I believe was called “Silence Please”), which took old silent films, condensed them down to around 30 minutes, and had a narrator in place of title cards. My first introduction to Nosferatu was through this program. The narrator not only replaced the title cards, but also threw in bits of trivia (i.e. they slowed the camera speed so that, when projected on a screen, it looked like Dracula was moving at supernatural speeds to fill his wagon with coffins.) Mark, you really hit the nail on the head when you decribed this Dracula. He (or it) is a far cry from Bela Lugosi and remains the most hidious vampire this side of Salem’s Lot.

  3. Paul: Forever I kept seeing stills of Count Orlok without the benefit of seeing the actual movie. Once I finally purchased the film on VHS it was probably the most watched movie at my house that year. It wasn’t just me, many of my friends were fascinated by it, too. Sometimes at get-togethers I’d just play it in the background. Inevitably, one or two people would get hooked by the images and we’d all sit down and watch it again. A truly repulsive rendition of Dracula, and therefore, one of my favorites!

  4. Joxxilicious: I need a rating. Im doing a report on this and i needed a review. This site did help me out alot but i still need a rating to help me. Im in my teens so obviously i havent seen this movie, so i dont know what its about and i would rate it if i could…..but i didnt see it :(

  5. Joxy: Just tell your teacher that you give it 5 out of 5 exclamation marks. I’m sure you’ll get an A. Or maybe you should rent the movie and actually watch it. I find it’s easier to do a report on a movie if I’ve actually seen it. Something to think about anyway.

  6. By miles the best, and most horrific vampire ever to haunt the screen. I picked up a copy in a bargin bin at blockbuster for 5 bucks. It came with Night of the Living Dead and some other B movie with Vincent Price. Needless to say This is the only movie I ever watch on the disk. This, oddly, came with a soundtrack by the gothic rock band type-o-negative. At first I was annoyed, but by the end of the film I was struck, not just by the band’s music, but at how well the songs fit in with the tone and pestilence saturated atmospher. The association between Count Orlock and pestilence, in the form of rats, provided the backdrop of disease and decay perfectly, in accordance with Bram Stocker’s original theme. Any film fan, not just horror aficionados, must see and own a copy of this film.

  7. Baroque: I’ve never seen the film with the Type-O-Negative soundtrack, but I have a friend I work with who owns that version. He described it much as you do. That is, annoying at first, but somehow fitting by the end. You’ve got my curiosity up now; I’m going to have to borrow it from him.


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