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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I once had a friend called Ange who many years ago attended a certain
university to take a " visual arts " course which is a euphemism for
film studies . As can be expected at graduate level the course featured
the usual suspects of Soviet Montage , Italian Neo-Realism , La
Nouvelle Vague and German Expressionism . I won't identify the
university but from what I heard it seemed like the worst university in
England with one tutor being a former smack addict and another seen out
on the club dance floors totally wired on cocaine . The standard was so
bad that when the final test came someone in authority messed up so
badly that the students had to revolt so they'd actually receive their
final degrees . After this the visual arts course was taken off the
syllabus and hopefully the tutors found a vocation better suited to
their talents like sitting outside train stations pleading for any
spare change . Still despite this Ange seemed to enjoy the course
especially the German Expressionism part , so much so that she bought
NOSFERATU on video . However after then seeing this movie - which is
free to view online because it's in the public domain - I'd really hate
to watch the films Ange didn't like if this is the best the university
NOSFERATU has a complicated history . The producers couldn't obtain the rights to Bram Stoker's novel of Dracula so changed the title and character names . How they managed to get away with this I've no idea since a similar analogy would be making a film called LORD OF THE THINGS featuring creatures called " Bobbits " and who have to throw a thing in to an ancient volcano or else the forces of evil called " Dorks " will conquer Middle World . Hmmm I wonder if anyone would notice the difference between this and a certain book ? In fact the version I saw makes no pretense that it's a wholesale copy of Dracula and uses the character names from the original source novel
The problems with the film is that it's never expressionistic or stylised enough . We've all seen clips of it like Max Schreck's Dracula rising from his coffin and his shadow entering the room of Mina but this is atypical from the rest of the film . There's very little surrealism , bizarre set design , nightmare imagery or any anything expressing the sensations the characters may be feeling . In truth it's very conventional with many scenes that are supposedly set in the dead of night being filmed in daylight
It's not a bad film and considering it's silent and feature length I never found myself praying for the end credits which speaks well of its pace and rhythm . That said it's a cinematic legend that no doubt features in all university film courses and led to Hollywood making a film called SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE starring Willem Dafoe as Max Shreck so a mainstream audience should rightly expect more from NOSFERATU . Certainly THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI is much more impressive and memorable and I do wonder if Ange should have wisely spent her money on something else
'Nosferatu' came out on a very disturbed time for the world history.
Germany had lost the war only three years earlier, and because of this
fact that the 'German Impressionism' cinema movement began. In this
movement, lots of important movies came out that redefined genres,
created genres, and influences film-making up to today. 'Nosferatu' is
one of the most famous pictures of this time, along with 1919's 'The
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari', 1927's 'Metropolis' and 1931's 'M'.
This movie is loosely based on Bram Stroker's Dracula, and it's the first adaption of the famous novel. But I really don't like the way the story was presented here. It isn't told well, and looks a bit confusing. The titles are too vague, and they don't really explain what's going on. This is one of these movies in which you don't really care what's going to happen. The plot is about a house salesman that is sent to Transylvania in order to sell a house to Count Orlok. The Count buys the house, but only because he is interested in the Count's wife. After this point, the story turns into something weird, and nothing like 'Dracula'. That's why I think it's unfair to compare this with 'Dracula' (although I do prefer the 1931's version of 'Dracula', but as I said...).
The acting is really the main reason this movie is so famous. The supporting cast is all excellent, but it's the main part that steals all your attention. Max Schreck is absolute perfect as Count Orlok. He provides a haunting, yet serious and scary interpretation. There's even one movie in which the matter of him been a true vampire is discussed (2000's 'Shadow of the Vampire').
The other aspects aren't really worth mentioning. F. W. Murrau's directing is okay for 1922, so is the rest. The titles are well made, but confusing. One thing that really bothered me was the blue and yellow tints to represent night and day, but this is not a problem only with this movie. Lots of 1920's silent movies utilize this resource.
Overral, this is a mice movie, with an excellent acting, but a confusing and bad-told story. From its period, I prefer much more the also German 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari'.
F.W. Murnau indeed has a significant place in movie history. He was the
director who invented camera movement in his wonderful 1924 production
THE LAST LAUGH. He is also known for having directed one of the most
beautiful silent romances, THE SUNRISE (1927). Besides, it is maestro
F.W. Murnau who adapted Goethe's marvelous FAUST to screen in 1926.
Finally, it is him who, not having any serious reference to how a
horror film was being made, proved unbelievable brilliant uniqueness of
thrill through the still classic horror, constantly a prospect film for
all scary movies, NOSFERATU. We have a number of horrors nowadays...
yet, NOSFERATU is still enjoyed by viewers galore... is that not an
Of course, the period of time which has passed since the premiere of the film is huge and, as a result, there may be some people who will dislike the movie after all these years: no camera movement, silent performances which tend to constitute "overacting" with "overgesticulation" (from today's perspective), undeveloped cinematography. Nevertheless, I think that because of the movie's old age, it has a stronger sense of suspicion and mystery nowadays than it used to have decades ago. I still absolutely admire this film for its constant power to thrill and shock while the awareness that the movie is more than 80 years old additionally thrills me. Modern horrors are, generally, so unoriginal and similar in their conventions that there is still no movie that could be compared to Murnau's 1922 masterpiece. How come that a movie made in the early 1920s with limited filming techniques can thrill the 21 century viewers? This leads me to one conclusion: Murnau's film really served its purpose to the very core.
The number of scary moments are something the film can still boast. Who can forget Hutter's visit to Graf Orlok's castle? Who can skip the facial expression of the vampire from the coffin? Who can possibly omit the terrific atmosphere when Nosferatu is on ship? And the moments with mosquitoes... I personally loved many of these scenes, but particularly two sequences have remained in my memory for good: the one at the castle filmed at marvelous Orava in Slovakia and the final one when Nosferatu's shadow is seen walking upstairs.
The performances are exceptionally good, yet on the condition that they are interpreted from the silent era's point of view. This is the only factor that may disappoint some today's viewers. Yet, the facial expressions and gesticulations (these are the major factors that one may take into account when applied to silents) still do the job. Max Schreck is still horrifying as Count Orlok. Consider his face, for instance, at the scene when he says about the throat of Hutter's wife. Greta Schroeder is also memorable as Ellen, particularly at the moments of her trances. Alexander Granach in his portrayal of Knock also provides a viewer with a thrill of fear.
NOSFERATU is a very well made horror movie, a silent I would recommend to everyone who likes scary movies. I also consider the movie a must see for all movie fans. Highly recommended movie with unforgettable atmosphere that has become even more intense due to the fact the movie was made such a long time ago. I love it and although I have seen it a considerable number of times, I am going to see it once again.
Life's Pictures Will Turn to Shadows
Vampires are one of the most popular horror myths out there that age centuries ago. We have no shortage of films for them. There are probably dozens or hundreds of Dracula/vampire movies ranging from the suave Dracula played by Bela Lugosi to the Vlad the Impaler type Dracula in Coppola's 1992 movie 'Bram Stoker's Dracula.' However, one image, one vampire movie has stood the test of time and appreciation better then any vampire movie ever made. Nosferatu, the first vampire, literally. F.W. Murnau wanted to make a great vampire movie. But he did it differently then most people would later do. He didn't make a sexy exotic man with a heavy accent, more so since the film is silent. But Murnau wished to create a vampire, which would disgust us look-wise. One vampire who is ugly, looks like a corpse, ugly rat faced monstrosity. He created Count Orlock, known as Nosferatu.
Of course the story is based from Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' and was almost forever destroyed by Stoker's widow for copyright reasons. But this still wins as the greatest vampire ever. The story merely is changed by names. A man named Thomas Hutter (Gustav v. Wangenheim) is a real estate agent who is hired by an odd man named Knock to sell property to Count Orlock, who lives in an ancestral castle in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania. He is warned all the way by townspeople that he is heading toward the land of the phantoms. In one scene we see him mention Orlock's name in a motel and everyone falls silent. Horses scare away, and a Hyena snarls outside. Murnau uses these images to show something is definitely wrong.
Hutter's carriage refuses to carry him further into the land near the castle, so Hutter is forced by foot, but soon after Orlock sends a carriage driven by a phantom. The carriage moves in fast motion showing that something is dark about it. In one shot of the journey in the Phantom chariot, Murnau uses a reverse negative showing trees appearing white with dark leaves and the black chariot. A very eerie look of the scene. Hutter meets the Count, and at dinner Hutter cuts himself, where as Orlock is fascinated by the sight of his blood, 'Your precious blood!' he exclaims. Hutter feels sort of uneasy, especially with his occasional reading of 'Book of Vampires.' After dealing real estate with Orlock he sees of locket of Hutter's wife. 'Is this your wife? What a lovely throat!' he says. That night, Hutter catches Orlock in his Nosferatu form, and is attacked, but after Ellen, his wife back in England feels danger, she calls out to him, and Nosferatu stops his attack.
Now that the farce is totally up for everyone (even if it was predictable) I will refer to him as Nosferatu now. He leaves his castle to move into the home he bought across from Hutter's house. They both leave, Nosferatu by ocean raft and boat. A plague falls upon the ship, and I don't need to explain what happens with the rest of the crew. In one part of the ship scene, we see a coffin slam open as Nosferatu rise up like a clock hand from laying to standing position, an effect good for that day and age. Now begins the trial of death and plague. Unexplained deaths come with his arrival. Ellen and Hutter fear, especially after Ellen reads The Book of Vampires. Ellen decides to sacrifice herself for the town. After she sees Nosferatu staring at their home through the window across the street, she asks Hutter to get the professor, so he cannot stop what she inevitability will do. Nosferatu sneaks into her horse, and corners her, using mystique powers to render her helpless before sucking her blood.
What Ellen read was that a woman pure of heart must keep a vampire up till the break of dawn to kill him. This happens, in one of the most memorable scenes ever in horror. As the cock crows, we see a close-up of Nosferatu as he lifts his head from her neck eyes glaring at the camera, looks toward the window, tries to walks away but is destroyed by the sun using a clever effect for it's time period of film-making. Hutter finds his wife; she is alive for a moment, but dies. She used herself for the greater good. She saved many more lives.
Max Schreck plays Count Orlock, who has the best acting in the movie, with his sinister expressions, and slow, stalking movement that scares us into a feeling of never escaping terror. In today's aspects, this film is not scary, but it is creepy in the sense of the looks of Schreck with his pale face, long nails, bat ears, and two rat-like fangs. Nosferatu's blood-sucking carnage of a woman in the film gave it a slight sexual tone to some audiences. In one shot toward the end we see only the shadow of Nosferatu go up the stairs making it more eerie, especially seeing those long nails in shadow grow longer as his hand goes for the door. Max Schreck is also never seen blinking on screen which is odd to me but I wouldn't know why. However this movie is not perfect, in fact the acting by Gustav v. Wangenheim is horrid. Not good at all. He is a walking cliché with his over dramatic gasps and his 'Good morning sun' type attitude pre-Nosfertu attack.
Murnau directed this brilliantly. His use of editing is great, especially when Nosferatu attacks Hutter with cuts to Ellen's waking. Use of symbolism, fast forwards, and reverse negatives give this film the quality it has. This movie is the best vampire movie ever. A classic, it has withstood the test of time, and is a travel into the evil of life. No sound is needed to creep out a viewer although a classical score helps the mood. Even though a rip-off of Stoker's novel, in the end it inspired most of the Dracula films to come out. A very dated but must see film. Two thumbs up, hell I'll throw both my arms up.
Rating: 9/10 Label: Cinematic Masterpiece Favorites Rank: #21
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.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
About the only classic horror film that even comes close to NOSFERATU
in terror is the early sound film, FREAKS. Despite the ability to use
modern appliances and technology to make extremely graphic horror
movies today, the stuff being called horror just doesn't come close to
these older films when it comes to setting a mood and scaring the pants
This version of Dracula is different from the Bram Stoker novel in several ways because the producers of the film didn't want to pay royalties! So, Dracula's name was changed to Dr. Orlock and the title itself was also changed. Otherwise, its a very similar movie. In fact, the plot is so close I won't even bother to give a summary other than to say that the way the vampire dies in the end is VERY different from other Dracula films (unless you see the 1979 remake of NOSFERATU, which, of course, is similar).
Finally, I strongly recommend you try to watch Shadow of the Vampire, a movie starring John Malkovich where they recreate dramatically the story behind the film. All of Murnau's strange idiosyncrasies are revealed and this is a real great addition to the original film.
So why is it so creepy? Well, like the 1931 version, it's filmed in glorious black and white--a must for good horror. Secondly, this Dracula is not the suave and handsome guy he is in some other films. In fact, he's downright awful! With a bald head, pointed ears, weird fangs that consist of his front two teeth and incredibly long, slender and pointed fingers, he is like a nightmare come to life!! Plus, and this is the absolutely creepiest part, his leaving his coffin early is the film will scare the life out of the viewer--as instead of bending his body to get up, he rises up vertically (they must have had someone underneath pushing him up to give this effect) and rats come pouring out of the coffin from his feet! This is a sight no other Dracula film can equal.
The only negatives are the rather old-fashioned plot elements here and there. However, director F. W. Murnau (who made a career out of making magical and other-worldly images on film) did an amazing job in creating the mood and magic that was this film and these very minor problems can easily be forgiven.
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