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In 1921, director F.W. Murnau set out to make a horror film based on Bram Stoker's novel, `Dracula,' but was denied the rights to the property by Stoker's estate. Undeterred, however, Murnau merely changed the title to `Nosferatu,' the name of the title character to `Count Orlok,' then proceeded to make what has come to be considered nothing less than a classic of the silent film era. An unsettling film (especially for the times in which it was made), it is a faithful adaptation of Stoker's story, and brings images to the screen, the likes of which at the time, had never before been seen. And although by today's standards much of it may seem relatively tame, there is an innate sense of the sinister about it that is timeless. For the same elements that so unnerved audiences in 1922 when it was released, are equally discomfiting now, most of which is courtesy of Max Schreck, who portrayed Count Orlok. It was the first screen appearance for what is now the most famous vampire in history, and the German character actor Schreck brought an eerie presence to the role that has never been equaled. Bela Lugosi may be considered the definitive Dracula-- his portrayal is certainly the most well known-- but even he could not match the sense of evil that Schreck brought to the character. The scene in which Schreck's shadow is cast on the wall as he slowly negotiates a staircase, emphasizing his misshapen head and elongated fingers and nails, is an image that leaves an indelible impression on the memory, as does Schreck's overall appearance: Lanky, though slightly stooped, with oversized, pointed ears and haunted, sunken eyes. It was Schreck's greatest screen role, and had it not been for a lawsuit by Stoker's estate that prevented wide distribution of the film, it would no doubt have made him a star. The supporting cast includes John gottowt, Alexander Granach, Wolfgang Heinz, Max Nemetz, Gustav von Wangenheim, Ruth Landshoff and Greta Schroder. An air of mystery surrounded the set during the filming of `Nosferatu' that became something of a myth, which began with the fact that Schreck, a method actor, was never seen by cast nor crew without his makeup and in character. And it was further perpetuated when it may have been implied by Murnau that Schreck was actually a vampire playing an actor playing a vampire, all of which goes a long way toward proving that `hype' is nothing new to the entertainment industry. One of the three most highly regarded German directors of the times, Murnau, whose philosophy was that `nothing existed beyond the frame,' directed a number of films, but none achieved the lasting notoriety of `Nosferatu.' For film buffs everywhere, as well as aficionados of silent pictures, this film is a must-see, and a perfect companion piece to the recently released (2000) `Shadow of the Vampire,' the film by E. Elias Merhige that chronicles the making of `Nosferatu.' A comparatively short film-- the restored DVD version runs 81 minutes, the video, 63 minutes-- it will nevertheless provide an entertaining and memorable cinematic experience. This is an example of not only the magic, but the magic at the very core of the movies. I rate this one 10/10.
They don't make films like this faded, haunting masterpiece of silent
When Dracula was first put on sale for movie rights; the one of the first men to grab it was F.W.Murnau one of the most of the famous German directors of his time. By the time word got back to them about using the rights of the name and storyline of Dracula (Owned by the rights of Florence's widow.) Murnau had alread started production on the film; so to get around it they cut out the name 'Dracula' and replaced it with Count Orlok, Jonathan Harker became Hutter and Ban Helsing became Professor Bulwer; Orlock stalks the gothic streets of Bremen instead of Vistorian London.
What is so different from Nosferatu and many of the others films of the time was that most of the film was shot on actually locations around Eastern Europe; the production hardly used any studio sets. What makes the most haunting feature tho is the sense of realism and the expressionism (most evident in the interiors od Orlok's Castle) that gives the film its hypnotic visual power.
If there is any film a film student would need to have in his/her collection, it's this film. Although it is a hard task to find any surving copies. The reason for this is when the film was released Florence Stoker (widow of the author of Dracula) noticed the comparsion; she pursued the case relentlessly and in July 1925 a German court ordered all prints of the film to be destroyed. Luckily for us several prints of the film survived; a few in which have still been lost over the last few 8 decades.
But thanks to the 2000 release of 'Shadow of a Vampire' a film which looks behind the filming of Nosferatu and starring John Malkovich (F.W.Murnau) and Willem Dafoe (Count Orlok) the film was released for the first time on DVD in it's full original length of 94 minutes.
Sadly soon after the film hit America in 1929; at the age of 43; Murnau was killed in a car crash.
"Men must die. Nosferatu does not die!" proclaimed the original publcity for the film. We can only hope it's the truth for this film.
Quite possibly my own very favourite movie. No vampire film before or
has been either as disturbing or as artful. Less overtly "expressionistic"
than some of the other German films of the day, but no less visually
impressive. Look at the seascape where Ellen/Nina/Mina pines over her
departed husband. Watch those marvelous shadows, which we see in Bremen
often than the vampire itself, used especially effectively in the closing
And look at Max Schreck himself! While Bram Stoker gave his Count affinity with wolves and bats, Murnau favours that rat, both in that they surround him and that he physically resembles a shaved, cadaverous rat. Spreading his pestilence, Max Schreck is truly the vilest, most loathsome villain in the history of film. The scene where he rises suddenly erect from his coffin aboard ship is one that horror directors everywhere should study very carefully.
Nosferatu is also noteworthy as the origin of the idea that vampires are killed by sunlight, previously present neither in literature nor folklore. In response to the poster who complained that the vampire seems to be walking around in light before his death, these scenes are set at night. In the original versions, there was a blue tint over these scenes to let you tell night from day; it's difficult to tell the difference without them.
My copy is marred with some hilarious inappropriate sound effects (such as a massive "BOING" when the gates of the castle open on their own accord) which I've learned not to hold against the film itself.
Thank God that Florence Stoker did not manage to completely wipe this film of the face of existence.
As I'm sure it is the case for many cinema fans, my respect and admiration towards this production widely excels the enjoyment I had while watching it. "Nosferatu" is a milestone from every possible viewpoint and it's one of those very few movies I think everybody should view at least once (although it actually requires repeated viewings ) It is the very first version of Bram Stoker's legendary vampire tale and easily the most copied film in the history of cinema. I'm sure everyone is familiar with the story of young estate agent Jonathan Harker traveling to Transylvania where he acquaintances the eccentric count who feeds on blood and controls the ones he has bitten, but THIS is the original version. Shot by F.W. Murnau (who also made the equally essential titles "Faust" and "Der Januskopf") and made unforgettable by Max Schreck in his performance as the Count. And, even though this film is over 80 years old, Schreck's image is still as nightmarish as it can be. No visual or make-up effect could ever surpass the simple appearance of Max Schreck! The fact that this film is still very powerful therefore almost entirely depends on his unworldly character. "Nosferatu" is beautiful poetry, difficult to watch at times, but very rewarding. The sexual undertones as well as the shock-aspects have surely dated by now, but they're still present, and as I mentioned before they only increase my respect for Murnau and his crew. A definite must see, just make sure you're in the right mood.
I despise most vampire stories. Not even Florence Stoker's dear departed
husband could keep me occupied after the first act in Transylvania in
"Dracula". The vampire has been so romanticized as an archetype
(particularly during the '90s) that I can't but feel that most horror fans
have forgotten exactly what made us afraid of these guys to begin with.
Murnau's "Nosferatu" is just such a reminder and, because of that, is the
only screen version of "Dracula" that I have ever loved.
Though Murnau, in the hopes of dodging the copyright bullet, took many liberties with the novel, he actually shot a great part of the film on location (an unusual practice for the time) in the historical Dracula's old stomping grounds: the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. The town, landscapes, and castles were all for real, not just some fancy studio backdrop. To me, it helps convey the tone of authenticity, as you can believe this story being told. As for Max Schreck, no charming, suave seducer is he. With his bald head, bushy eyebrows, rat-like teeth, pointed ears, nails as long as the fingers they are attached to, emaciated build, and stare that seems to come from the bottom of Hell itself, he is the primal, archetypal image of the vampire of legend.
While some could interpret this tale as a subtext to Nazism or anti-Semetism, at it's core, it's simply the tale of a monster, who brings ruin and death in his wake. That such a tale has managed to survive it's era, considering the obstacles that could have totally removed it from view, is the gain of all who have seen. Eat your heart out, Bela Lugosi.
F.W. Murnau's version of the 'Dracula' legend still remains as distinctive
and memorable as ever. The enjoyable Bela Lugosi version is perhaps easier
to watch, and strictly as light entertainment it might work better, and many
later versions brought their own interpretations - but nothing matches
"Nosferatu" for its engrossingly morbid atmosphere and its unusual
interpretation of the main character.
Max Schreck and Murnau were able to create an image of the vampire that remains in your mind long after seeing it. Regardless of whether it or some other conception is closest to the 'true' Dracula (if such a thing even exists), it is quite effective, and it was particularly well-conceived for a silent screen version that cannot rely on dialogue to define a character. The settings and the story perfectly complement Schreck's weird character, creating an atmosphere full of constant strangeness, uncertainty, and foreboding.
It's unnecessary (and probably impossible) to make detailed comparisons among all the film versions of the Dracula character and legend. "Nosferatu" stands perfectly well on its own, as a unique and skillfully done adaptation of the story, and as one of the memorable classics of the silent era.
For copyright reasons, Bram Stoker's novel was filmed with the names of the
characters changed (Orlok for Dracula, for example) but otherwise the story
remains the same: a young man goes on a trip to see a mysterious count in
order to sell a house, leaving his bride behind, and finds that the creature
he meets is not of this world.
As the extremely creepy Orlok, Max Schreck is brilliant, with his long fingernails and gaunt appearance. A triumph in early cinematic make-up. Gustav von Wangenheim portrays the confusion of the victim well, as does Greta Schroder as his wife. FW Murnau directed the film with flair, showing us not only shadowed vistas and abandoned castles, but the nature outside (foxes) and miniature worlds evolving under a microscope. This film sits well with his later 'Sunrise' in showing the effect of outside forces on a young couple, as well as being one of the key early horrors in its portrayal of Stoker's anti-hero.
This version of the Dracula tale remains one of the best, although all have some different perspective on the novel. On the strength of 'Nosferatu' alone, Murnau deserves his place as a true innovator of silent cinema.
'Nosferatu' opens with a man looking at his reflection in a mirror. Besides
its symbolic significance, this is a perfect distillation of his character,
that of a vain, narcissistic, absurdly self-confident to the point of
machismo, married man largely indifferent to a wife he abruptly leaves to
make the fortune worthy of a man of his merits. He ain't afraid of no
ghosts, nor robbers. So, the image he sees in that mirror is one of
wholeness, perfection - I am Hutter, I command all I see, my unity of
identity is linked to my power in body.
To the viewer, however, the effect is the precise opposite. The framing of the scene is fragmented, with the outer frame, the window and the mirror; Hutter himself is doubled - the 'real' Hutter and his reflection, or shadow. All the assumptions smilingly embodied in Hutter will thus be destroyed in conventional horror terms.
His whole identity will be destroyed - the Count will suck his blood and in effect become him, if we believe the man who claims 'blood is life'. Hutter's body will first become passive, feminised as he is violated by the Count; after, he will no longer be a body, but a shadow, bloodless - literally, he shadows the Count as the latter comes to England; and symbolically, in that two men now claim possession of Hutter's wife, and both have equal claim, both being Hutter.
Murnau is careful to give his horror story a genuine patina as an 'objective' story: no horror film has come as close to capturing the visual essence of all those stories that have circulated in Europe for centuries, the twisting medieval towns, the arcane religious symbolism, the plagues and mass hysteria, the crumbling castles and storm-tossed ships, the creak of wood - the look of the film feels like a crumpling manuscript setting out the story.
But the film is also the portrait of a marriage. The opening sequence chillingly reveals the sterility of a marriage before anyone has even heard of the Count - Hutter wrapped up in himself; Ellen, hypersensitive, morbid, dressed as if in mourning; the union childless; the couple, above all, separate, each completely misunderstanding the other.
The image of the mirror is repeated throughout the film, connecting Hutter to the Count - the scene in Knock's office where Hutter looks at the map of Transylvania just as he did his mirror; the Count's house directly opposite Hutter's, a decaying edifice that looks like a melting, anguished face.
But Ellen is linked to the Count too, her somnolent rising mirroring his. This isn't a conventional opposition between bourgeois and bestial urges, even though the Count is given the most grotesque (anti-Semitic?) animal features, and even though Murnau never lets us forget the Conut as emanation of the Hutters' dreams, desires and fears - Hutter reads that he will shadow his dreams; Ellen spends most of the film sleepwalking.
All three elements of this triangle, which symbolises the one relationship, is linked to death - the Count, the undead, living in coffins of dead earth; Hutter, narcissistic, onanistic, his lifeblood siphoned from him; Ellen, the Venus fly-trap, self-abnegating destroyer of the destroying force. Hutter ends the film as he began, alone, his lust for money and status destroying the union that crowned it. The contrivance of society and respectability is swept away by the malaise of nature, those gendered forests, tides and moons, as if the Count and Ellen are part of the one female nature Hutter cannot accomodate.
Such Freudiana is undermined in the film in two ways - in the disarming comedy of the piece, the Count often seeming to have strayed from a silent comedy, running around London with his coffin; and by a self-reflexive examination of film, that sees the warning about vampires in the book Hutter reads linked to bestiality and the eye that is so important in the film; the turning of the film stock into negative as Hutter enters the Count's realm; the trickery, such as time lapse and fast motion, that shows the Count's mastery of time and space, but, more importantly, Murnau's mastery over the storytelling, already indicated by an unseen, but constantly intruding narrator; even Ellen's couch, which, my husband suggests , seems patterned as strips of film. In a movie where human sexuality is impossible, the characters seem content to be voyeurs, like the film audience, staving off the death, the loss of identity, or at least its fragmentation, that contact with another person entails.
Nosferatu is a great horror movie (possibly the first ever according to
some accounts), and one of the pinnacles of the German silent era of
film-making. Made in the silent age by the German expressionist/auteur
FW Murnau, the film has the genuine power to act creepy, odd, alluring,
mythic, and beautiful by way of images and music that don't leave your
mind once the film is over. It's like someone collected a stash of
nightmares and pulled them together with the original Bram Stoker story
of Dracula. Max Shreck, in his most notorious role (and apparently the
only one really anyone's bothered to see) plays the monstrous Count
Orlock, a vampire who comes out at night to tempt the living and, of
course, to suck blood. Though this story of Dracula has been numerously
repeated (even by the Hollywood version in the early 30s), this film is
one of the prime examples of how horror SHOULD be done- dispense with
cheap thrills or overloading with exposition.
A director like Murnau here, who had total artistic control (abeit the film not in circulation for many years), could transform Orlock's world into one of acute, deliberate angles, long deep shadows, and painting with light like some mad artist from the dark ages. One could almost claim that this, alongside Night of the Living Dead, changed the way audiences looked at horror films, that a style and presence could be wrung from characters that bring out the worst fears and dread in common people. Years from now, long into the digital age, there may still be room for of all things a silent, non-talking effort like Nosferatu, where the terror can still be felt through the black and white (sometimes tinted) photography and stark physical performances by Schrek and the others. In short, a film like this is one of the reasons I love to watch horror movies.
I watched the Kartes Video Communications 1984 video cassette version on a
15 inch screen. Titles were in English. Film quality was good. Sound was
matched to action. Cropping appeared good, and titles were completely
visible. This should give an idea of the technical quality of the release I
Nosferatu is one of the few silent movies with a significant following today. It deserves a following. The film is a suspense piece. Still it is paced nicely so that it feels tense in the right places but never goes long enough without something happening so as to be boring.
Visually Nosferatu forms the precedent for the vampire in movies. The main difference is that Count Nosferatu has more affinity with rat than bat. Aside from this the main stream image of the vampire is based heavily on Nosferatu. This film has been as influential on modern vampire mythology as the novel Dracula. It is based on the novel Dracula. Especially disturbing to me personally are NosferatuÕs twisted hands.
In terms of the filmÕs being silent, this should not put anyone off. The suspense/ horror genre fits well into this medium. I was lucky enough to see a version with music matched to the scenes, but if the copy you are watching has a bad sound track just play some music you like.
I recommend this film to anyone interested in the horror or suspense films. It is a bit of a cult film, but this does not keep it from being actually good.
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