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I had an interesting reaction to F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu: A Symphony
of Horror." At no point in watching this film did I feel any genuine,
visceral terror. Even though it features one of the most physically
off-putting characters of all time, the movie never actually gave me
the shivers. That came about an hour later, as I was tossing and
turning around, trying to fall asleep. Lying in that dark empty room, I
kept on picturing the movie's iconic images of a corpse-like vampire
crouching over his victims as they slept. I kept on imagining my closet
doors as the castle passages in the film, and that at some point, they
were going to swing open under their own power. One minute, they would
be vacant, and the next there would be Count Orlok walking unhurriedly,
striving to quench his thirst for blood. That kept me up through all
hours of the night.
For me, the terror came not in the actual moment of viewing, but afterward. I have seen "Nosferatu" four or five times in the past couple of years, and each time, it has registered the same effect on me. It has a haunting quality that cannot be ignored, even if it is not as viscerally gripping as it probably was to the people who first saw it ninety years ago. And although it does not make my blood pump like some other entries in the horror genre, it is not, save for a small stretch in the middle, a dull experience. It is full of unforgettable images and a quintessential, of-its-time atmosphere.
Perhaps the movie's grandest achievement is the ever-going presence of its villain. And that is really saying something, seeing as how Count Orlok, the titular nosferatu, only has about ten minutes of screen time to his name. Ignoring his physical grandeur, one can feel the vampire's authority hanging over every scene like a specter. One that cannot be fought off or evaded, that is until an innocent maiden sticks her neck out (literally) to save Europe. In this sense, "Nosferatu" is a defining example of German Expressionism: an art movement prevalent in the movies as well as paintings during the 20th century in which the creator would provide an inner feeling through some distorted version of reality. And what distorted version of reality would work better than the idea of vampires: carcasses rising from the earth to feed on the flesh of the living. No matter how many times our parents remind us that these are just fictional entities, most of us can never quite shake the impression that there are some things in this world we cannot explain or expect. Especially when it's late at night, and you are all alone in a dark house.
But the vampire's physical presence cannot be ignored, either. I do not know how much is owed to Max Schreck's performance as Count Orlok or the fabulous make-up work, whose creator I really wish I could name. But this is one of the most visually memorable characters in cinema history. Count Orlok is not so much a man as he is a rodent. He bears no hair of his own, pointed little ears, a narrow lower jaw eerily reminiscent of a snout, and big expressionless eyes with heavy dark shadows hanging beneath them. But best of all are the fangs, positioned smack-dab in the middle of the upper maw again, much more like a rat than a man. Add to that Max Schreck's lean, limber posture and stiff movements (movements deliberately slow, as they are made by a creature with no reason to hurry) and Count Orlok quickly becomes visually disturbing. He may not terrify us as he did nine decades ago, but the image of a corpse-like vampire continues to haunt us.
Certain elements of "Nosferatu" have dated, most of them the simple practical camera tricks that director F.W. Murnau had to utilize to suggest a supernatural element. But to his credit, he does apply them enough times so that the kitsch element wears off and we start buying them as part of this world. For instance, Count Orlok's carriage: footage of horses pulling a rig played at irregularly fast speed. By today's standards, and keeping in mind that it was very easy to over-crank a camera by accident in the silent era, the effect does look silly. As do some of the time-lapse shots of coffin lids crawling upon their boxes. Whether it was Mr. Murnau's genius or just lucky accidents, the constant usage of these tricks do eventually, as the film progresses, seem to meld it and become part of this fantasy.
There is a twenty-minute stretch in the middle, as the vampire travels from Transylvania to (I believe) Germany that loses an overall sense of pacing. And a surprisingly lengthy "meanwhile back home" sequence, with a German professor lecturing about Venus fly traps is flat-out dull, in spite of its metaphors. But other than that, this is an undeniably impressive motion picture from one of the genre's greatest talents. Since the movie is available in several versions, I do feel obligated to briefly comment on them. To put it brief, get a hold of the recent, restored version by Kino International. The movie is given appropriate color tints to suggest day and night (and destroying the error of black-and-white prints in which it was clear that Nosferatu, supposed to be instantly killed by sunlight, is walking around in day without ill effect), and there are none of those added sound effects like crows cawing or doors creaking. There is one version that used these to the hilt and rendered some of the film's best moments unbearable. I'm sure there are some silent filmmaker who would have tossed in these kitschy additions to 'enhance' their movies had the technology been available to them at the time, but I doubt F.W. Murnau would have been one of them.
When i first heard about this movie and what it was about, i thought i was about to pee my pants when i saw it. It is often hailed as among the greatest(if not the greatest) symphony of horror" of all times(pun intended). The movie is basically "Dracula but with different names(if you want to know why it is all over the internet). Anyway, the movie succeeds in fascinating. The angles and shots were pretty cool and the scenes are memorable, such as Count Orlok(Dracula) ascending the stair case. Some of the horrors i was expecting were not terrifying for modern audiences. The major thing that made me mad was cop-out ending. Like Dracula(1931), which is often considered to be the greatest Dracula, had that same weakness. Although i was slightly disappointed, Nosferatu is a movie everyone should see, like Godfather, Casablanca, ETC. Watch it give your own opinion on this "symphony of horror".
If Dracula (1931) can be seen as the Anglo-American version of Bram
Stoker's novel, then Nosferatu has to be the screen version of that
novel seen through a European perspective. This product of German
Expressionism was, like the earlier Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, highly
stylized. It's a film that relies hugely on imagery. And what indelible
visuals it presents. It's use of shadows and light is rightfully famous
and was a huge influence on horror and film-noir movies of subsequent
Perhaps the oldest film in existence that truly has the power to disturb. Granted it's not exactly going to terrify modern audiences but there is something disturbing about those images of the Nosferatu; made,if anything, even more disconcerting by the aged film. Compare Max Schreck's Count Orlok to Bela Lugosi's Dracula and I defy anyone to say that the former is not more sinister. Schreck gives a truly subhuman performance. His Nosferatu is a far cry from the cultured aristocrat of future presentations of the Count. He is a devil in the devil's clothing. An irredeemably evil rat-like being. It's one of the most iconic performances from the silent age.
While I actually prefer to watch Werner Herzog's remake, I recognize the excellence of this very old movie. It's one of the greatest achievements of silent cinema and is a must for any student of the horror genre.
"Nosferatu" is one of those rare non-comedy silent films that actually
improves with time. This flickering keepsake of a long-dead past, shot
in oddly-tinted black-and-white with mouths that move but which we can
not hear, casts an almost sepulchral aura of peaking into a grave. We
come to this film expecting fear, but what "Nosferatu" delivers is
The first of many films based on Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (though its failure to do so officially nearly led to its being throttled in its crib by Stoker's widow), "Nosferatu" is the story of Hutter, an ambitious realtor who gets more than he bargained for when he sells a house overlooking his own home to Count Orlok (Max Schreck). Orlok, you see, is really Nosferatu, a vampyre (that's the way it's spelled in the titles), and Nosferatu has taken an unholy interest in Hutter's wife, Ellen (Greta Schröder).
As Orlok famously observes: "Is that your wife? What a lovely throat."
It's a famous line, but deceptive, too. There's not much humor in "Nosferatu", even of the dark kind. Schreck is so full of dark menace and rat-like ugliness that it defies belief he can move around the streets of a large German town without being noticed. But Schreck is also one of the most convincing monsters ever put on screen, no thanks to CGI or even much makeup beyond some putty around the ears and kohl around the eyes. He's more zombie than vampire, his eyes seemingly dead as he makes his grand entrance into Hutter's bedroom, memorably backlit as Hutter cowers helplessly under the sheets. Just try and get that image out of your head once you've seen it!
Director F.W. Murnau launches the horror film genre in fine style, with special effects that still cast a spell long after technology has moved on. Maybe it helps we don't expect in 1922 to see tricks involving double exposure and stop-motion photography seamlessly integrated into a storyline.
Murnau ditches some elements of the Dracula story, reducing the character of Van Helsing into a barely-there character Bulwar, "a Paracelsian", which connotes some mysticism "Nosferatu" never quite delves into. There's also Knock, Hutter's boss, who has the Renfield role, driven crazy either from proximity to Nosferatu (though the two never meet) or just from wearing his pants up to his armpits.
The performance of Alexander Granach as Knock, and Gustav von Wangenheim as Hutter, are very broad by today's standards. It's a 90-minute movie, but one that could have stood another 20 minutes of cuts. In addition to the padding involving Bulwar, we have some strange logic gaps, like when the crewmen of a ship open one of the boxes they have been charged to transport by Nosferatu, discover nothing inside it but dirt and rats, and then take on the rest of the cargo anyway. Surely that was not what the manifest said the boxes contained. So why transport it at all?
But of course "Nosferatu" is really not meant to work on that level. It's a film about the inexplicable, like how Knock cries "Blut ist Leben!" and Ellen wanting Nosferatu's rat claws around her young body, melting in desire when she sees the ugly count staring at her from the window opposite her bedroom. This works in "Dracula" because Bela Lugosi had charm, but Max Schreck?
What seems to draw morbid Ellen is the lure of the grave, the most powerful common element in "Nosferatu", more so now than ever as the actual making of the film passes from living memory.
F.W. Murnau's rendition of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" features what may be
the creepiest looking vampire ever committed to film, played by a
horrifyingly made-up Max Schreck. Alas, Mr. Schreck isn't shown doing
many vampire deeds; mainly, he just looks menacing - and ugly. The
horror herein is much more suggested than visible on screen, save for
the film's rather more pointed ending. Director Murnau, designer Albin
Grau, and photographer Fritz Arno Wagner create beautiful light and
dark shadows. The actual lead actor, Gustav von Wangenheim, makes an
excellent impression. The sets and locales are magical.
********* Nosferatu (3/4/22) F.W. Murnau ~ Gustav von Wangenheim, Max Schreck, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach
Nosferatu is one of our earliest films and certainly one of our most
entertaining of earliest films. The film is shown in virtually every
film history class throughout universities around the globe. It has
been picked apart from every angle of meaning from that of pure
expressionism to political nuance. The film did not win any awards
after all the Oscars were still 5 more years away from creation.
The film is German and actually titled Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens which translates to Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. The film was instantly paired down to just Nosferatu. Directed by F.W. Murnau and staring Max Schreck as the vampire, the film was shot in 1921 and released in 1922. The story is an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula but the names and details were changed in the movie because the studio was unable to buy the rights to the novel. Items like "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok."
We're lucky to have this film at all. Nosferatu was the first and only production of Prana Film company which was founded in 1921 by Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau. Albin Grau was an artist and specialized in the occult. Due to lawsuits by the Stoker estate the film company had to declare bankruptcy and evades the lawsuits altogether. Grau had the idea to shoot a vampire film during his wartime experiences. During the winter in 1916 a Serbian farmer told Grau that his father was a vampire and an Undead. Of course this gave Grau several ideas for movies. On Nosferatu he was not only the producer but he was also the production designer and responsible for how the entire film and characters look.
Henrik Galeen was sought after and wrote the screenplay for the film. He was especially experienced in dark romanticism and had worked on other screenplays. He set the story in a fictional North German harbor town named Wisborg. It was also his idea for the vampire to bring a plague to Wisborg when rats follow Nosferatu off the ship from which he lands in the harbor. It was his decision to leave out the character of Van Helsing, the vampire hunter.
The film is very engaging for 1922. The establishment of the alternate vampire that came to be known as "Dracula-type" this more rat-like depiction is very believable. This adaptation of Dracula is as positively hailed as the original Dracula itself. The movie is in public domain and because of that most of the copies of this film are of poor quality though it is easy to find the film. There are some very nice quality of film in release and it is well worth it to view one that is high quality so as not to miss any of the fine details of the film.
The film was remade in 1979 by German director Werner Herzog. Like all remakes that film is a film unto itself and should not necessarily be compared though it is also worth time to be viewed. Nosferatu is a part of film history but aside from what grade history may give, the film is scary and well made. It is a wonderful film and Max Schreck as Count Orlok is terrific to watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Each generation has a different Dracula. When F. W. Murnau directed
Henrik Galeen's adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Nosferatu, a
Symphony of Horror in 1922, he created a Dracula for the German
expressionist community. Through both acting and editing, the director
used the camera to focus on particular emotions that both actors and
audiences were feeling.
Throughout the film, the camera remains stationary. This mise-en-scène only allowed the audience in on what Murnau wants the audience to see and feel. Emotional moments in which the vampire is about to attack Jonathon in his sleep are inter-laced with that of Nina waking from a dream to warn him of the attack. Nothing else in the two rooms can be seen, forcing the audience to focus their attention on the action taking place before the camera. This drawn-out suspense is felt by both audience and characters.
Another editing example that evoked emotion involved Jonathon observing Nosferatu's late-night preparations for his journey to England. Jonathon watched Nosferatu from his bedroom window as the vampire loaded what looks like coffins onto the back of a horse-drawn carriage. Murnau slowed down the filming process to make the vampire appear as if he was moving faster than humanly possible. Cuts between Jonathon's horrified but curious face are inter-laced with the activity outside his bedroom window. Finally, the vampire is seen climbing into the final coffin and closing the lid. The horse-drawn carriage leaves the castle grounds and Jonathon is on his own to escape.
Also, "special effects" add to the fantasy that is Dracula through the technology of editing. In one scene, the vampire appears out of thin air before a terrified Jonathon. Also in the death scene of the monster, the director created the illusion that the sunlight radiating from a window evaporated him into nothing but a puff of smoke on the floor. What is interesting in that shot is the director's ability to make the vampire slowly dissolves, starting with his fingers and ending with the smoke.
An example of an actor's wardrobe and make-up giving off a strong emotion is seen in the horrifying appearance of Nosferatu himself. Count Orlok appears almost rat-like. His elongated nose and sharp, pointy teeth give his face the impression of a rodent. Murnau used Nosferatu's long, skinny fingers to cast shadows upon the walls in order to "creep" out the audience and give an impression of a crawling monster waiting in the shadows. Multiple shots found in the film give the impression of a slithery movement whenever Nosferatu moves about the screen. His arms are stationary at his side and his fingers spread out, as if ready to attack. This induced a fear in both characters and audience. This fear is only intensified when appearance meets movement, creating an understanding that the monster is not natural.
Nosferatu's appearance makes it very clear that he is the monster of the film and is to be feared. Later vampires that would come across American screens would take the fantasy vampire in a real world in Nosferatu, and create a life-like human vampire in a fantasy world. The vampires would become sexier and more desirable to our American fantasies and less bazaar. In German expressionism, the audience feared the monster for how unhuman-like he appeared. In American films, the actions of the vampire first makes the audience desire the vampire, making fear a secondary emotion.
Strong emotions can also be communicated through the exaggerated acting of the characters. One character in particular is that of Renfield. Renfield, who could be considered Nosferatu's devoted servant, is locked in an asylum. He senses his master's return and becomes unruly. The actor must exhibit skills that would lead the audience to understand his lunacy without the use of dialogue cards. His uniform was shabby and his hair was unkept, which would be considered consistent with a lunatic's inability to care for himself. Also, Renfield is eating flies when the doctor enters the room. His wide eyes dart around the room in an insane manner. His "desire" for blood even leads him to attack the doctor. His wild-beast-like movements (jumping from the floor onto the bed, crouching on the bed as if ready to attack anyone who comes near) only lead to a greater understanding of the character's insanity.
This film was the first known adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Even though small elements are different in the movie (the death of Dracula) and some are all together missing (no wolves who are friends of the vampire, the death of Lucy, and the three vampire women) the over-all emotional portrayal of the story is present. The appearance of the character of Nosferatu greatly resembles that of the vampire in the book. The movie's vampire would differ from our American culture some years later when American idealism would saturate the movie industry. Our vampires would become more beautiful and sophisticated. But that is our generation seeing the story through our idealism.
Overall, this movie is a good example of expressionism in Germany. It is worth the time to watch this film. This film is a great short summary of Stoker's book Dracula for those who want a "condensed" version of the classic or those who just like classic silent films.
Very good, i liked it of course, the fact that it is in black and
white, means that the film going generation of today wouldn't consider
this such a great film, to what it truly is...
all together, with the special effects, and its early date (1922), this is a work of genius. it is also pre WW2, and German, meaning some aspect's of the story, other than Bram Stoker's Dracula, came from the depression, that Germany was at the time, and because of this, subtle clues and idea's, ranging from Anti-Semeticism to exist within the film (Orlok's Image, also, it was the time for persecution to begin).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We may say in what sense _vampirism tales are symbolic, allegorical,
metaphorsvampires ,like addicts, let people state loudly the character
of urgency of certain needs. Even if not explicitly related to sex or
other vigorous needs, _vampirism serves as a vehicle for expressing the
urgency of these direct needs. Ordinary people, average undistinguished
people rather often feel a desire and push as strong as that felt by
the vampire or the addictthe outcasts of the normal society. I agree
that in many cases _vampirism is a pretext for giving shape to inner
needs and impulses. The vampire, the addict need to feedthey need it
urgently; this allows people to talk about needs other than the
professed onesmore directly, secret needs.
Being an implacable foe of _allegorizing in either film or literary criticism, I am myself amazed that I came to speak about the allegoric ,symbolic, hidden, metaphoric content of Dracula's tale. In NOSFERATU this content is expressed better and more powerful than in perhaps any other rendition of the tale; it might be the single adaptation also that makes the book interesting. Al the other Dracula films that I know are more or less exploitation crap.
It is understood that I do not mean _vampirism/ addiction as a metaphor for venereal/ infectious diseases, etc., but as an image of secret urges and needs, of a nature either organic or moral. Vampirism and sexuality are obviously mirrored; the same goes for yet another private sides.
And yet I am not saying that _vampirism is a mask, a subterfuge, a means to an end. I only explained why a well made vampires story, like NOSFERATU, impresses so powerfully. At least some of its power comes from this. We are at least shown on screen the force of the drives, of the needs. This does not explain all; it explains something. We are shown how urgent is the needof the vampire, of the addict; we are unaccustomed with such things on screen. It takes its material from the inner hidden experience; therefore, it is effective. But of course the majority of the horror directors lack this flair.
Besides,NOSFERATU reopened my taste for the great literary ancestors (Stoker's, Miss Shelley's stuff ...).
Nosferatu by F.W. Murnau, can be considered as being the first classic
of cinema history. It dates back to 1922, the early history of the
seventh art. If it wasn't for some serious research in order to obtain
a full copy of this movie, then I would have to give this title to
It is true, this is the first silent black & white movie I have seen, but it was certainly a good starting point, and also a place I could recommend others to start from.
Its story is simple; it is basically a summary of Bram Stoker's Dracula, the backbone of the story. It eliminates secondary characters or diminishing their roles in order to present the movie with few interventions of inter-titles.
It is very fast moving, understandable and even though it dates back more than 80 years, it is still scary. This is mainly due to some great shots by F.W. Murnau and the amazing main character portrayed by Max Schreck. Some of these effects are yellow tinting for day, blue tinting for night, an amazing sound score and the genius negative shot.
Max Schreck portrays Nosferatu. Murnau considered him quite ugly and just ordered ear and nose tips to be added to his make-up. Schreck does not blink on the whole movie, wears heavy clothes and always creates an aura of darkness and mystery whenever he is on screen. This can be finally seen on one of the final scene where the shadow of the vampire is seen walking up the stairs.
All these and more, make of this film a great visual experience. This is probably the most significant release on the dark world of vampires since the before mentioned Bram Stoker's Dracula.
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