Vampire Count Orlok expresses interest in a new residence and real estate agent Hutter’s wife. Silent classic based on the story “Dracula.” (IMDB synopsis)
This is the category that I’m the least familiar with, but I enjoy learning something from some of the earliest horror films ever made, responsible for shaping and influencing their successors. As far as I can tell, Nosferatu is the first horror movie about vampires, and is an unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Despite their attempts to alter the story and characters so as not to get in trouble, the filmmakers got in trouble and almost all copies OF IT were destroyed. Luckily we still have the film today, so I’mma go ahead and watch it!
It’s a silent movie! Woo hoo! (All right, I’ve never seen a silent movie before, but I’ve BEEN in a short silent movie, so I have to like them.) Confusingly enough, in the version of Nosferatu I watched, the names have been changed back to the original Dracula names, so Count Orlok becomes Count Dracula and so on.
We see Jonaphon Harker and his wife Nina, who must be very much in love, because they gurn at each other and do that weird kiss where you have to take a flying leap and then spin around a few times.
Then Mr Renfield, an unsavoury estate agent and Mr Harker’s boss, tells Harker that Count Dracula wishes to buy a house close by, and Harker should journey to Transylvania to visit him. (I’m fairly sure Renfield breaks the fourth wall by shooting the audience a look here.) Anyway, Harker packs his stuff and says farewell to his wife for a few months. “Don’t worry, Nina. Nothing will happen to me.” Heh heh.
Eventually Harker gets to Dracula’s castle and stays a few nights, long enough to be bitten in his sleep and to discover the true vampirous nature of his host. Count Dracula (or Count Orlok, as he is originally called in this film) is a tad odd-looking, with a bald head, a long hooked nose, dark-rimmed eyes and prodigious eyebrows, so I’m surprised it takes Harker as long to figure it out as it does – ESPECIALLY considering he has The Book of the Vampires to help him!
This film is where a number of long-standing and lovely clichés are born – the vampire’s shadow creeping up a darkened stairway, the vampire swinging up out of his coffin, the vampire burning up in sunlight and so on. But Nosferatu differs from other Draculadaptations in a few ways also. Instead of being suave and sexy with delicately pointed incisors, THIS Dracula/Orlok looks completely monstrous and seems to have an affinity with rats and the plague. Even his teeth are huge and rat-like, which makes me wonder how he could leave only TWO small holes in Harker’s neck. The few lines Orlok has are amusingly unsubtle, e.g. “Is this [a picture of] your wife? What a lovely throat!”
As for the other characters… Well, Harker is just hilarious. He only has two facial expressions – exceeding joy, and cartoonish terror. His wife Nina just wants her hubby to be safe and nearby, so she looks slightly worried all the time. I have to hand it to her for sacrificing herself at the end in order to kill Dracula. In the Vampire book, it says, and I quote: “Only a woman can break his frightful spell – a woman pure in heart – who will offer her blood freely to Nosferatu and will keep the vampire by her side until after the cock has crowed.” If I were her, I’d look a bit more fed up about the idea, but there you go. Desperate times, desperate measures.
What else can I say? Well, it’s nicely paced and certainly looks very Gothic – Dracula’s castle is just as you’d expect – vast, stony and cobwebby. The music also does a god job of setting the mood, as it can range from frenzied and crazed, like a flurry of wasps, to dark and abysmal, with what sounds like a host of complaining church organs. Again, this could be something that is particular to the version I watched, as different versions have different musical accompaniments. Some day, when I have more time, I’ll look at these other versions and make my comparisons.
The film itself isn’t as scary now as it would have been to audiences at the time, but it’s still pretty darn spooky. I can see why it’s rated so highly in the annals of classic horror cinema, as it created and inspired a lot of what would come after it. It’s enjoyably spooky and if it doesn’t make you want to believe in vampires, nothing will.
7 ½ jam sandwiches.