Monday, March 19, 2012

Nosferatu (1922)

F.W. Murnau
1922 • 94 Minutes • 1.33:1 • Germany
Film Arts Guild

Cast – Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach, Georg H. Schnell
Screenplay – Henrik Galeen loosely based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Producers - Enrico Dieckmann, Albin Grau
Cinematography – Fritz Amo Wagner

Award and Honors

Is this your wife? What a lovely throat.

The Story

Henrik Galeen’s story of Nosferatu is loosely based (read: ripped off) from Bram Stoker’s original novel Dracula.  At the time of production, Bram Stoker’s estate had not given permission to Murnau to shoot the film, so they worked around it by changing names and a few events… but it’s essentially the same story.  A real estate agent visits the reclusive Count Orlock in Germany to sell him some, but notices a series of unusual events surrounding his visit.  Sound familiar?
The Direction

Murnau is one of cinema’s pioneer filmmakers.  His sense of visual style was groundbreaking.  F.W. Murnau would later go on to direct a series of pioneering films, most notably the Oscar winning film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, but not before directing this horror classic.  One of the first horror movies, and the first great horror movie. Nosferatu is to the horror film genre what Metropolis was to the science fiction genre… extremely influential.  The shot composition was ahead of its time, especially this iconic image:

I mean… LOOK at that image.  Even 90 years later it is still chilling.  Many of the influences that Nosferatu had can be seen in modern horror films.
The Acting
You can’t talk about this film without mentioning Max Schreck as Count Orlock.  One of the great screen presences… few on screen vampires have been more chilling.  Gary Oldman, Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee have all played excellent Draculas, but Schreck is the original on-screen vampire.  Unlike Dracula, Orlock is not a charming, sophisticated aristocrat.  He looks like the demon he is, and Schreck’s portrayal is so alarmingly disturbing that it still sends chills down your spine.  80 years later the making of this film was fictionalized in a film called Shadow of the Vampire starring Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck who, in the film, is actually a vampire.  (Also a good watch, by the way.)

The original horror film. Even though this silent film is almost a century old, it doesn’t fail to deliver chills in ways that modern horror films wish they could. At the time this film was made, Bram Stoker’s widow was threatening legal action against the filmmakers for using her late husband’s story as the basis of this film, and so… Max Schreck portrayed “Count Orlok” instead of “Count Dracula.” Regardless of the name change, the story is familiar and is perhaps the best adaptation of the classic “Dracula” story. Schreck is especially creepy as the title character and the camera work was way ahead of its time. Beautiful horror film.

Since the film is in the public domain, you can watch it for free here:

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