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I want you to go back, way back, before CGI effects, box office
predictions, acid trip movies, black and white, even sound, we had
silent films. We've of course remember them, but how many of us have
really seen one? I happen to love them though, my film appreciation
class made me run out and get as many silent films as possible, one of
the most memorable silent films of all time is Nosferatu. A film that
still to this day remains one of the most harrowing movies of all time.
Say what you will about how far special effects have come into today's
movies, but the silent film really made this movie into the true horror
story that has memorable images and still gives me nightmares.
Thomas Hutter is an employee at a real estate firm in a city called Wisborg, living with Ellen, his wife. His employer, Knock, receives a mysterious letter. Knock decides to send him to visit Count Orlok in the Carpathian Mountains to finalize the sale of a house. Hutter leaves his wife with his good friend Harding, and Harding's sister Ruth, before embarking on his multiple-month journey. He goes on the trip and he is soon picked up by Count Orlok's coach, which is driven by a strange specter that hides its face, and moves at an unnatural speed. At his arrival at the castle, whose doors open by themselves, he is welcomed by Count Orlok. His grotesque facial features hidden at this stage by his hat, Orlok initially appears to be a mere eccentric gentleman. Hutter has dinner at the castle; Orlok refuses to eat and silently reads a letter. A bell rings at midnight and a startled Hutter cuts his thumb. Count Orlok tries to suck the blood out of the wound, but stops at Hutter's horror, who then falls asleep in the parlor after a conversation with Orlok. Hutter wakes up to an empty castle with fresh wounds on his neck, he's oh so doomed at this point.
The very first vampire movie of all time, when F.W. Murnau couldn't get the rights to Dracula, he created actually one of the most memorable horror movies of all time. Seriously, if you have never seen this movie, try to find it, and if you dare say that the image of Orlok waking up and rising out of his coffin doesn't scare the ever loving daylight out of you, I'm going to go all Clockwork Orange on you, tape you to a chair put toothpicks in your eye lids to keep them open and you're going to watch this in the dark. This movie is a true classic and will always remain one of the scariest movies I have ever seen.
I was a bit disappointed in this. I had seen a few of visuals that are
sometimes shown because "Count Orlok" is so bizarre-looking, so I
finally decided to check this famous German silent film out and see
what all the fuss was about. Well, it was much ado about nothing,
Yes, Max Schreck as the Orlok-Dracula was fascinating to view. No one has ever quite duplicated his strange facial features in over 80 years of film-making, makeup or no makeup. That was worth some of the price of the rental, but the story wasn't. It just dragged too much and the other characters weren't much.
I did learn a few things, however, about Bram Stoker's Dracula tale that I don't believe I have heard in other Dracula movies, such as how many and why coffins of dirt accompanied the Dracula on his voyage. That, and a few other tidbits, were interesting, as were the different colored tints on the some of the scenes.
But, story-wise, it's a bit too dated and too slow for today's tastes, I'm afraid. Also, 84 minutes of a fairly-strong pounding of organ music can get to be a little much. Silent film purists will not like that last statement, as they seem to revere these scores, but, hey, all I can say is: "bite me!"
When the American industry got around to making it's vampire entry they
must have felt that U.S. audiences needed their monster to be softened.
What a difference between the two interpretations!
While Hollywood was smart enough to cast an east Europe type (Lugosi) they lessened the dread factor considerably by dressing him up in formalwear and giving him no real teeth to speak of. Orlock has teeth and they look very, very sharp indeed. The hollywoodized Dracula looks less like a monster and more like a romantic leading man when contrasted to the Orlock character of this German film. No one will ever attach 'romantic' to their description of Count Orlock.
Where Lugosi would attempt to convey his brand of menace by means of a penetrating, hypnotic stare and holding up his fingers, Shreck has no need of such staginess. Where 'Dracula' (1931) has fake, vaguely European sets, 'Nosferatu' (1922) is truly Europe. In it's silence Nosferatu feels more ominous than does Dracula, what with his slow, deep-voiced, stilted speech which seems contrived and even unintentionally funny at times (how often have comedians utilized it since?) And wolves and bats are far less creepy (almost noble by comparison) than are rats and spiders. Nothing noble about rats.
I didn't set out to write a disparaging review of 'Dracula'. I've loved the Lugosi version since childhood, but when I saw 'Nosferatu' many years after numerous viewings of the Universal series I realized very quickly that the fear factor of 'Nosferatu' was leagues ahead of the American version, and frankly, I was initially dumbstruck by this fact. I would never have guessed that a silent-era horror film could be so much more striking than the films made over the next five decades!
Whereas Hollywood gave us a fun, not very scary, but deservedly much loved movie classic, F.W. Murnau has given us a fascinating, visionary masterpiece of horror cinema. Students of film art will likely explore 'Nosferatu' more than once.
Although at a rather quick 90 minutes, experiencing 'Nosferatu' seems
as surreal in its semi-illogical disjointedness as an early Bunuel film
and not unlike a dark and dreary drinking binge; one recalls only
certain sequences of the narrative, punctuated by large gaps in time
and in the association of events/characters. This doesn't necessarily
detract from the overall enjoyment of the film, but rather adds to its
Hans Erdmann's (?) original score is at once darkly foreboding and highly hypnotic -- like Count Orlok himself -- with its haunting phrases unfolding and folding back on themselves like a spiral. Orlok similarly comes out of the darkness to glide through walls or up stairs and then, receding from light and recoiling his claws, he inexplicably vanishes from sight (and from script) for minutes on end....only to re-emerge from within his coffin in one of the film's most infamous images.
Orlock's insatiable lust for young blood gives the film an erotic charge otherwise repressed in the waking lives of the "human" characters of Jonathon and Nina (surfacing only slightly in Nina's somnambulism).
The two most amusing moments in the film also depend on the "non-human" characters of sickly Renfield and his master, the Count. Renfield escapes from his prison cell pursued by a large mob of locals and, fleeing to a rooftop, starts throwing stones at the angry Volk while wearing the mischievous grin of a child. The Count, meanwhile, adds an element of surrealism as he does a skinny-legged shuffle through town with his own coffin in tow. Still quite creepy and darkly comical after all these years.
Okay, it was rude of the film makers not to consult Florence Stoker about
the use of her late husband's book to make this film. She was entirely
within her rights to have the whole thing consigned to the flames, though
even a cursory look at the worst prints in circulation reveal what posterity
would have lost had she succeeded. At its best this is an extraordinary
achievement, and its a pity that its many fine qualities went largely
unappreciated in 1922 - and for some time thereafter.
However there is no point getting bogged down in false veneration. Nosferatu has some glaring flaws which reduce its status from the towering masterpiece it is purported to be. The cinematography is often crude, even by 1922 standards. The script robs Stoker's story of its grandeur and blatant eroticism - there is a brief nod to the latter only in the final scenes. In place of sex the director has placed pestilence, which may or may not be an asset, depending upon your stance. Of much of the acting, well, the less said the better, and some of the special effects are frankly risible. Compare the journey from the Borgo Pass to that in Tod Browning's Dracula, made only nine years later, to see how inept parts of Nosferatu can be.
On the plus side one has to applaud a film that maintains its terror and stark imagery almost eighty years after its release. At its best Nosferatu is that rare creature, a truly frightening and disturbing horror epic. It is a triumph of design, and the attention to detail is overwhelmingly impressive. Max Schreck manages to deliver a performance that is aided and abetted by makeup, but whose real impact derives from its sinister restraint.
A mixed bag, then, something it has in common with its 1931 Hollywood remake. I know I swim against the critical tide when I say I prefer the latter, but that is not to deny the power of this film.
I gave this a late night viewing and perhaps being tired made full
concentration difficult, but this was not an easy film to evaluate in
light of it being a silent film made in Germany in 1922 by Murnau.
The overall impression is one of familiarity with the "Dracula" theme, the young man being driven by a coach that will only go so far toward its destination before he has to get out and walk. (This has happened in so many horror stories that we can see it all began with stories like "Dracula" on which this is based). GUSTAV VON WANGENHEIM is the young man and he overacts with gusto in typical silent film manner. GRETA SCHRODER is his wife, Ellen, who seems to have an unusually strong link to Count Orlock's menacing presence. She's the woman whose portrait he is shown, upon which he makes the film's most famous remark: "What a lovely throat!" It's all very impressionistic, with dark shadows particularly menacing when they show Count Orlock's grotesque form (including his long fingernails) as he looks for victims. Some of the plot elements seem a little obscure which may be a fault of the title cards.
Very impressive was the musical score from 1997 by James Bernard which had the appropriately eerie effect that caught the mood of the piece with its somber atmosphere.
Damp and chilly are the words that come to mind when I think of this film and its overall effect. I can certainly see why it has the reputation it has as a classic horror film with allowances being made for the style of acting that was anything but subtle by today's standards. Worth a look, but not a film I'm likely to view again.
This film is both a ground breaker and a classic. Ground breaking in that it was the first vampire movie, the first in its use of sunlight to kill a vampire (which thing I understand to have been a new concept at that time and original to this film), and a leader in the genre due to its style and quality. Classic in the use of black and white, shadow and light, makeup, and special effects. The scenes, the way they're shot, and the flow of this film are marvels. Max Schreck is the perfect vampire. He represents the animated corpse in wonderful fashion. The story line, character development, continuity, photography in particular, and attention to detail are a tribute to the German cinematic artistic ability of the day. This thing is more than just worth watching. Its worth watching again. It would seem that great vampire movies are like that. Just when you think they're dead forever they resurrect.
FW Murnau's Nosferatu - the most famous silent horror film, the first
adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula and containing some of the most
memorable and terrifying images ever committed to celluloid.
The German Expressionist directors can be credited with inventing the horror genre. Not that works with a horror theme hadn't been made earlier elsewhere, but the Germans were the first filmmakers to actually use the medium of cinema to frighten the audience. In Nosferatu this is not just done by the disturbing look of the vampire, but by a number of cinematic techniques. For example, the huge distorted shadows are more eerie than seeing the real thing. He also nearly always has the vampire walking towards the camera, as if he is advancing upon the audience.
Max Shrek's as Dracula (or Graf Orlok, depending on the version) has to rank as one of the best performances of silent cinema. Not only is the vampire a brilliantly creepy creation in makeup, but the way Shrek moves and positions himself stiff, spindly and slow, like an animated corpse completes the character. The parts of the original Dracula novel which dealt with the vampire's ability to change into the shapes of various animals was dropped for Nosferatu, but Murnau references them by having Shrek creep like a rat, hunch his shoulders like a bat, rub his hands together like a fly and so on.
Other than Max Shrek, the other actors are decent but not outstanding. The performances are highly melodramatic and exaggerated, even by silent film standards. This was probably a deliberate request by Murnau to heighten the unreal quality throughout the picture, although having said that he favoured over-the-top performances even in straight dramas like Sunrise (1927).
Murnau had a great eye for space. His shots are often reminiscent of works by the Dutch painter Vermeer cramped interiors with open doors leading to distant vanishing points. This helps to give the film a tight, claustrophobic feel.
Like DW Griffith, Murnau makes extensive use of cross-cutting. However, whereas Griffith would use cross-cutting to make comparisons between historical events or to create a tense race-against-time, in Nosferatu the effect is much more psychological. He reveals the psychic link between Jonathon and Nina by cutting between him being attacked by the vampire and her nightmare; he defines Renfield by cutting from him to Van Helsing describing a carnivorous plant; he shows Nina's troubled mental state by cutting from her sleepwalking to shots of the raging sea.
Nosferatu is an early landmark in horror films. It's not Murnau's best though, and also sadly due to its history there are no perfect prints available. But the fact that it is still so well known and still has the power to creep out modern audiences is testament to it as a great piece of film-making.
F.W. Murnau directs this unauthorized version of Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. NOSFERATU is arguably the earliest surviving screen version depicting the 'Prince of Darkness'. This German production deviates slightly from the original, but the now familiar story we all know by heart is intact. Count Dracula becomes Count Orlok and journeys to Bremen, Germany instead of London. His physical appearance is not dashing, mesmerizing or even mystical; but much resembles the rats that frequently accompany him. I find this the most eerie of all that would follow. The accompanying organ music background makes this scratchy black and white silent film an essential masterpiece. Max Schreck is immortal as Nosferatu/Count Orlok.
This movie was really impressive and quite an experience to see. Who
would have ever known that a silent movie would still be so powerful
The power of the movie is in the fantastic atmosphere. The sets and environments are perfect and give the movie an unique atmosphere that actually is very creepy, even now days. It's also thanks to the cinematography that captured the images perfectly. One of the most atmospheric movies I have ever seen.
The story is told in a great way and I must say that it's told better than any other Dracula movie later released. The movie is full with some classic horror scene's that later would inspire many other filmmakers.
And yes the movie is actually scary, which is mainly thanks to Max Schreck who plays the part of Count Orlok in a most incredible way, also helped by some good make up. Most of the other performances are typically early movie stuff. Meaning that it's silly over the top at times. Gustav von Wangenheim gives a great lesson in overacting and his laugh might very well be the weirdest I have ever seen in a movie. But in a way all those performances give the movie a certain charm which makes it irresistible to watch.
There are also some surprising good special effects. Better one's as in the 1931 version with Bela Lugosi anyway. Some of them were really impressive and I can imaging it really seriously freaked some people out back in 1922.
Truly a piece of movie history that needs to been seen by the movie lovers, especially by those who like the horror genre. Still after 82 years one of the best horror movies of all time.
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