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Subtitled "A Symphony of Horror", "Nosferatu" is the first, and on of the
best, of many movies inspired by Bram Stoker's "Dracula". Directed by one
of the cinema's true poets, who helped create the language of the horror
movie, it is a dreamlike film where much is left unexplained. The geography
is deliberately vague, and several characters, such as the Van Helsing
figure, Professor Bulwer, have little connection with the main action. From
the start there is a sense of unease and menace, but everything is done by
suggestion without any explicit violence. Blood is constantly mentioned but
never seen. Plague overtakes a city but we are left to imagine the state of
its victims. When the townspeople chase Knock over the countryside they
appear to be tearing him apart, but the object of their frenzy turns out to
be a scarecrow.
The film's climax has a gentle sensuality. Instead of a phallic stake being driven through the vampire's heart, a self-sacrificing heroine holds him in her bed to ensure his death. Sex and death, blood and contamination, are the film's themes. Max Shreck's Orlok is a truly grotesque iconic figure, both frightening and moving, with his bat ears, his aquiline nose, hunched shoulders, hairless dome, flaring eyebrows, black-ringed eyes, white skin, and clawlike hands.
Most films on IMDb can, to an extent, be rated on a scale of 1-10. This
does not truly do the films justice, but gives a vague general
impression to the reader. However, films like 'Nosferatu',
'Metropolis', 'The Battleship Potemkin' and 'Man With a Movie Camera'
cannot possibly be rated in this way, their position in film is too
important and their influence is invaluable.
'Nosferatu' contains a whole host of iconic images. The shadow, Orlock's white face, the moment where he rises from his coffin, the sequence where he is seemingly trapped by the bars of his windows and of course his final scene. Max Schreck's on screen presence is one of the most iconic of film history and the influence his role has had over contemporary horror is vital. Think of the majority of slasher films produced since 'Halloween' in 1978, all the characters creep silently and the subtlety of the role is what makes the films effective.
Bieng a German Expression film the cinematography in 'Nosferatu' evokes emotion and meaning perfectly. We sympathise with Orlock as he stands, hands clasping the window frame of the run down mansion in which he lives, the connotations are very clear and perfectly executed. The degree of moral ambiguity seen in 'Nosferau' is not something seen in many horror films today, so in a way horror has taken a step back since 1922 (although this is not to say it is the case with all horror - think 'Peeping Tom').
The choice of locations here are very evocative, the big castles, the landscapes the boat and the sea. Orlock's journey being set on the ship with the sails silhouetted against the sky and the chopping waves helps create a tension and atmosphere. I definitely felt the use of the sea reminded me of the introductions to Hideo Nakata's 'Ring' films. I love the mansion that Orlock chooses to travel to to live in. We see very little of it, but the many windows have a definite sense of mystery.
The special effects of the day were clearly very limited and simplistic. Though i feel they have a certain charm to them. I particularly liked the speeding up of the horse and carriage for the unnatural and unearthly effect. Dated for sure, but it's a nice idea.
Simply put 'Nosferatu' is one of the greatest films of all time and one that can be studied in depth as a textbook example of evocative imagery and on screen presence.
Truly, most filmmakers making B-flicks such as "Blade" and other modern
Vampire films should really look at this movie for real reference
because Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Graunes, is the the greatest and
first adaption of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. Yes, the film is truly
remarkable to remembered after all of these years, it has surely gone through a lot including being sued by Bram Stoker's widow for not
having permission of doing the film (which is a bit ridiculous). Alas, that is why we remember this beautifully done film for its' greatness and glory, a true masterpiece. So, if you will, makers of such modern Vampire films which earn horribly in the box office anyway, watch this film and remember it for not only is it an actual movie but something that will save your career, it is a true reference.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nosferatu (1922) by F.W. Murnau--F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu may be the most famous example of German Expressionist film-making in the 1920s, and yet it is probably the least representative of the overall movement. The first tale of Dracula to hit the big screen, Nosferatu tells the tale of the vampire, Count Orlok, who brings terror to a village in Germany in the 1830s. The film is slowly paced in keeping with the Expressionist movement's emphasis on slow pacing to highlight nuance in the acting and detail in the mise-en-scene, but also in this case to orient the viewer to the background folklore of vampires, a mythology not in the forefront of the public consciousness in 1922. Compared to the highly distorted exaggerated sets of Expressionism's most representative film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu was mainly shot on location in order to emphasize the idea of the unnatural coming out of the natural, a very different notion from that of the carefully crafted, internal, emotionally subjective reality created in the mise-en-scene of most Expressionist films like Caligari. The acting of Max Schreck as Orlok is highly expressionistic, however, with his extremely distorted body movements. In fact, his acting was so unearthly for its time that many wondered if Max Schreck himself might not be a vampire as chronicled in the film Shadow of the Vampire (2000). The cinematography highlights a sense of claustrophobia through its alternating wide-shots and close-ups with scenes edited together using iris transitions. These edits complement the chamber-drama atmosphere of the tale, as do the many arches in the film, a dramatic motif to define a limited, claustrophobic space. Interestingly, whereas Caligari was a commentary on a hypnotic, but misguided power leading the passive masses to their doom in Germany in World War I, Nosferatu is a commentary on the death of the Great War. So profoundly is this film about death, that every character in some way orients himself or herself to it and establishes a relationship with death. Ideas of the supernatural and death pervade the editing together of disparate scenes, a variation of parallel editing in which two or more actions are perceived by the viewer to be taking place at the same time but there is some sort of supernatural connection between these simultaneous occurrences, such as when Hutter's wife perceives his danger at Orlok's castle when the vampire prepares to drink his blood. Ultimately, while the originator of the vampire film, and a classic of horror and silent cinema, the film's pacing is too slow for so minimal a story. As with many German expressionist films I fear that the emphasis on distorted mise-en-scene and acting betrays what is truly unique to the cinematic medium, editing. Paintings can have emotionally-subjective, distorted imagery as well as in the Expressionist paintings of Munch and Kandinsky, and many German plays in the teens displayed the overwrought performances of films like Nosferatu and Caligari, but this to me is a betrayal of what should be truly emphasized in cinema, editing. Editing is what truly differentiates the cinema from all other art forms, and is why I feel that German Expressionism with films like Nosferatu runs contrary to the soul of film-making. B+
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's incredible to view a film over eighty years old with no special
effects and very little in the way of makeup inspire the kind of dread
and foreboding as found in director F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu". Max
Schreck defines the title character with his skeletal features and long
spider like fingers, a haunting figure that defies an earlier captioned
description as a rich man who's free with his money. The mood is set
early, his homeland of Transylvania is a land of phantoms where evil
spirits become powerful after dark.
Jonathon Harker's quest to bring Count Orlok/Nosferatu/Count Dracula back to Bremen is beset with nightmare, heralded by Harker's first meeting with the Count. There is nothing subtle about Schreck's portrayal when Harker cuts himself slicing bread, Nosferatu literally jumps at him to taste blood. When Harker examines his appearance in a mirror the following morning, the doom he is about to face appears as two trace like punctures on his neck.
The film uses a number of animal symbols, but unlike the more familiar "Dracula" film of 1933, bats and wolves are missing here; instead we have an early appearance of a hyena outside Nosferatu's castle. Rats and spiders are used repeatedly, and for added measure, a lab scene in Bremen features a study of a Venus fly trap catching a fly, highlighting the "vampire" of the vegetable kingdom.
The first time Harker manages a glimpse of Nosferatu in his earthen coffin aboard ship, the image offered is truly one of horror and fear, accentuated by the mere appearance of eyes and a partial face. It's repeated for added effect later on, when Harker opens a door to find a demon like, hideous visage in full form. How much is left to the imagination to see the shadow of Nosferatu climb the stairs while stalking Nina Harker? The implied terror is captured in one of the all time great images of silent film history.
There are very few movies that I would consider "must see", Nosferatu falls into that category from the perspective of it's historical importance to the horror genre and it's impact on vampire lore in film. More is conveyed via menacing shadows, stark imagery and the revelation of vampire history than in reels full of many of the computer generated horror fests of present day.
Something that unfortunately seems to have been forgotten by many is
that between WWI and the Third Reich, Germany made some impressive
movies. The three that probably stand out the most are "The Cabinet of
Dr. Caligari", "Nosferatu" and "The Nibelungenlied".
The second one is still the epitome of a horror movie. Obviously, it was based on Bram Stoker's classic "Dracula", but put a surreal spin on it. Max Schreck, as the title character (whose name in the movie is Count Orlok), makes a scarier Dracula than Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella or Gary Oldman. His shaved head and long fingernails emphasize his mystique. Probably the best scene is when Count Orlok is walking up a staircase; his shadow on the wall becomes a form of horror in and of itself.
All in all, "Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens" is naturally a must for film historians and horror fans alike. Werner Herzog's 1979 remake was even better; they further developed the title character. And "Shadow of the Vampire" was also quite interesting.
"It will cost you sweat and tears, and perhaps... a little blood."
I would probably give this film 5 stars if I were to base it on appreciation for how it influenced many films during the silent era and served as a landmark for the horror genre. F.W. Murnau played a key role in the German Expressionist movement and Nosferatu is one of its greatest examples. This movement went on to influence other great directors such as Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock especially in the way they played with shadows and lighting to express the emotions of their characters and enhance the mood of their films. This silent film might have scared audiences in the 20's, but it is really outdated and I struggled to maintain my interest in the story. I have to give it credit for shaping modern horror films today and also influencing the film noir genre, but no matter how much I appreciate it, Nosferatu was far from entertaining for me. One of my favorite things about this film was Count Orlok's makeup which was really creepy, along with how Murnau used the lighting and played with shadows to build the suspense. Those moments were great, but the story really didn't lead up to much and Orlok got very little screen time. I'd personally recommend watching those brief scenes instead of sitting through the entire film. The film uses a lot of title cards and they leave them on screen for so long you could practically read everything twice. There is no denying this was a masterpiece, but I had a hard time sticking with it.
The screenplay was written by Henrik Galeen, heavily stealing from its source material, Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. In Nosferatu we are first introduced to a real estate agent named Knock (Alexander Granach) who is sending his associate, Hutter (Gustav von Wagenheim) to Count Orlak's (Max Schreck) castle in Transylvania. Orlak is looking to buy a house in Wisbourg, and Knock is considering selling him the home next to Hutter's. Hutter realizes this is a great opportunity to make some money so he leaves his wife, Ellen (Greta Schröder), with some friends while he embarks on the long journey. Along the way several people warn him about the strange events that occur at night near Orlak's castle, but he continues on. Once he reaches the castle, he has an awkward conversation with Orlak and when he accidentally cuts his finger he realizes that Orlak is in fact a Nosferatu (vampire). When Orlak sees a picture of Ellen he quickly decides to buy the new home and is shipped to Wisbourg in a coffin. On the way back several crew members of the ship mysteriously die and some sort of plague seems to have reached the city. Hutter and Ellen know what's really going on, but the question is whether or not they can stop this evil creature.
Nosferatu is all about the eerie atmosphere that Murnau managed to create with a very low budget. It turned away from the standard action-adventure and comedy films of the silent era by creating something unique and exploring such emotions as fear and suspense. Most contemporary horror films probably have to credit Murnau for being a landmark film and setting the stage for them. Nosferatu is a Gothic stylized film that has influenced the way we view cinema today so we owe Murnau a lot of gratitude for his work. Unfortunately films are subjective and despite my appreciation for this film I did not enjoy it as much as other film lovers. I did like the cast and the editing however, but the pacing of the film was what I had issues with.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nosferatu is a film I had wanted to see for awhile. All the clips of
Max Schreck as Count Orlock was amazing to say the least, the use of
shadow was also incredible, it seemed like such a different take on
Dracula. But it isn't, its just the typical Dracula story and the fact
that its a 90 minutes but only has Schreck in it for a tenth of that
The 90 minutes is a problem. Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi was 70 minutes and it told its story far better. 'Well it had sound' you may say, well Nosferatu may as well be a sound film because I remember spending quite a bit of time reading during the film. I understand silent films needed title cards to explain the story but if it becomes a detriment to the pace and well being of the film then you have a problem, either trim the story to better fit the lack of sound or just don't make the film. The film just isn't interesting enough to fill its 90 minutes and halfway through, you get bored and just stop reading the title cards, so if you haven't seen any other version of Dracula, the story isn't going to make as much sense to you. The film practically shot itself in the foot here.
The lack of Schreck is another problem. While his small appearances throughout the film does make his character all the more mysterious and terrifying, it makes the other 75 or so minutes painfully boring because you're either reading or watching something that isn't as interesting as watching Schreck. Schreck is fantastic as Count Orlock, his unnatural appearance, movements and almost expressionless face is truly a compliment to how terrifying a monster can be with no voice. Sadly, they do give him a voice, he is a god damn gentle man if the title cards are anything to go by, with such horrifying lines as 'What a lovely throat', why would you give a character as horrifying as Orlock such cheesy lines. It just takes away all the mystery and frankly makes him less scary.
F.W. Murnau may have made a flawed film but his eye for detail is incredible. His use of shadow is so effective, he manages to convey things no title card could ever convey in words and its a real shame he didn't inject more of this creativity into the rest of the film. The music is very good as well, blending in well with the films tone and its cinematography.
Overall, I wish I could say better things about Nosferatu, but its simply to flawed to ignore. I recommend it to any fan of the horror genre because it is a landmark film in the genre and the performance from Schreck and Murnau's fantastic cinematography are deserved of all the praise in the world.
Clarification is required when we talk about this film, we are
talking about three different things: a discrete work of art, a
cultural phenomenon and a viewing experience. Murnau's film, which was
made in 1922 and in many ways shows it, is the beginning of vampire
films. Working with less precedence than all the horror film directors
who followed him, Murnau helped shape the horror genre with choices
that he made in presenting this story. Many of these still work very
well, including the spooky shadow-on-the-wall sequence and the
horizontal-to-vertical rise of the vampire from his coffin.
Your enjoyment of this film, however, will not be determined solely by what Murnau did. Instead, it will be influenced by a number of factors. From a personal point of view, it will have to do with how you feel about vampire films in general, with whether you've seen the Herzog/Kinski 1979 version of this film(which is absolutely wonderful), and with how your version of this classic is presented to you. In my case, for instance, I had to endure what was a truly horrible modern music soundtrack that Eureka Video felt entitled to inflict upon its customers, and clumsily translated intertitles as well. Were I to have seen this with better music (and it's hard to imagine that worse music could be found) and better translations of the original German caption-boards, I would have been spared some pain.
However, these minor quibbles aside, the film is beautiful. The camera angles are innovative, the images are stunning, and although Gustav von Wangenheim as the Jonathan Harker wannabe Thomas Hutter is not a great actor, the rest of the cast, including Greta Schröder as his wife, Alexander Granach as the Renfield clone named Knock and, of course, Max Schreck (his name in German actually means "fright" or "fear") as Count Orlok are all brilliant in their roles. As for exterior locations, the quaint Hanseatic towns of Lübeck and Wismar give the film added authenticity and period charm.
Is it scary? Well, not so much today, but it's not really the fault of this film that we have come to recognise every convention it uses. After all, most of them are original to this film and have themselves been copied in the subsequent iterations that we've seen. and in any case, even where it is not scary, it remains deeply eerie. Is this film good? Very definitely yes, although on a personal level, if you asked me about early atmospheric films regarding vampires, I would have to admit that I prefer Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Vampyr", filmed ten years later in 1932. Still, considering the advances made in the intervening decade, Murnau's earlier film is an incredible accomplishment. And Max Schreck, who would come back, thanks to Willem Dafoe, some seventy-eight years later to become an equally haunting if somewhat funnier character in E. Elias Merhige's "Shadow of the Vampire", creates a horror archetype here that we have been living and dying with ever since.
This Expressionist film was released in theaters 90 years ago, and its
essential ability to scare people has not been diminished. Two people
deserve credit for this accomplishment. The director, F.W. Murnau,
captured a foreboding world behind the lens by the strong use of
shadows and his keen ability to tell a story. The other person is Max
Schreck, whose makeup and portrayal as the vampire continue to haunt
people to this very day. I still find it hard to believe that his total
screen time is less than 10 minutes. This is a testament to his strong
screen presence. The film would not work without him.
NOSFERATU is an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula and the plot is very familiar to horror fans. The filmmakers did not receive permission from Stoker's widow, and as a result, some of the characters' names are changed. For example, Dracula became Orlok and Renfield became Knock. However, the plot was basically the same and she later sued because of copyright infringement. Anyway, the protagonist of the film is Thomas Hutter who works as a real estate employee. His boss, Knock, sends him to a Castle in the Carpathian Mountains. He must sell a house to the mysterious Count Orlok. Just by coincidence, the house for sale is next to Hutter's house in the German village. Hutter soon realizes that Orlok is a vampire after being attacked. The vampire rushes off to his newly purchased home, which is in ruin. He will spread a plague in the once peaceful village while attempting to defile Hutter's wife. Hutter must try to get back in time to protect the love of his life.
A creepy atmosphere pervades the entire film. There is always a feeling of dread. The story is simple yet very effective. I always fear for Hutter because of his predicament. When he leaves the peaceful village and beautiful wife, Hutter has no idea what terror soon awaits him. In my mind, there is nothing scarier than being isolated in an ancient castle with a malevolent vampire. I could easily sense how alone Hutter truly was during his stay in the castle. After subsequent viewings, I can always feel the impending dangers as Hutter first sets out on his journey. Somewhere in the far distance there is a vampire awaiting his company.
The film does have flaws. Some of the acting is exaggerated and laughable by today's standards, but you have to consider the time. The pacing is slow and may bore some people who do not appreciate silent films. You really need to have some patience and watch the film in the right frame of mind.
If someone were watching this film for the first time, I would recommend finding a decent DVD release. This film has fallen into the public domain and there are some inferior prints out there. For advice on acquiring the best copy, you can visit the message board here and read different opinions. I also recommend the Werner Herzog remake from 1979, which I believe is a superior film. However, even though Klaus Kinski does a fine job of playing the infamous vampire, he cannot compete with Schreck's performance.
P.S. According to the trivia section on this website, Max Schreck makes a cameo as a clerk without any makeup in Renfield's office towards the beginning. Hutter is seen talking to the clerk shortly before going into Renfield's office. In some prints, the man raises his head, in others he does not. This supposed cameo has been debated among horror aficionados, and while there is no official source for this, I believe that it is Schreck. Go watch and decide for yourself.
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