1922; Not Rated; 81 Minutes
Gustav Botz: Dr. Sievers
John Gottowt: Professor Bulwer
Wolfgang Heinz: Maat
Guido Herzfeld: Wirt
Ruth Landshoff: Lucy Westrenka
Max Nemetz: Kapitän
Georg H. Schnell: Westrenka
Max Schreck: Count Orlok
Greta Schröder: Ellen Hutter
Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau; Directed by F.W.
Murnau; Screenwritten by Henrik Galeen; based
on the novel "Dracula" by Bram Stoker
by DAVID KEYES
all the memorable, haunting images that graced the screen
during the silent film era, none have quite had the staggering
power as the vision of Max Schreck in the role of Count
Orlok in "Nosferatu." It's easy for an actor to occupy the
screen with bizarre facial expressions, but Schreck has
the type of presence here that matches with the silent performances
of Lon Chaney. He embodies the aspects of the blood-hungry
character that make him both surreal and hypnotic--expressions
that aren't overdone, makeup that adds emphasis to the most
eerie qualities of the face, and body movements that we
associate with the living dead. No, this isn't a man who
is playing a character, but one who is living it.
have great appreciation for silent movies done in the ambiance
of genuine horror. This was an era in which gazing at something
eerie or truly terrifying was not accompanied by someone
screaming their heads off. Sights that deeply disturb people
are not always followed by a loud shriek--real horror silences
us, because we are to scared to make any immediate reaction.
F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu," probably the greatest Dracula
interpretation ever made, embraces that fact with a vengeance--here
is a rendition where characters are not obliged to vocally
react to the site of their death coming in. The fear that
generates in their eyes is the most haunting of all, and
by far the most effective. Other silent horror films, such
as "The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari" and "Dr. Jekyll And Mr.
Hyde," remain terrifying, while the modern scream-fests
like "Halloween" and "Friday The 13th" easily fade from
just as the image of this vampire remains shocking, so does
the photography. Director F.W. Murnau, one of the first
directors to incorporate actual scenery into the movies,
takes the famed "Dracula" story to the midst of the foreboding
Carpathian mountains, in which rocks sculpt their own menacing
shapes, and the shadows cause fear when the characters step
into them. Most silent endeavors (with the brief exceptions
of "Intolerance," "Birth Of A Nation" and "The Battleship
Potempkin") relied on sets to carry the actors into a landscape.
This is a movie shot on location, and the areas that are
incorporated have such an etching effect on the story that,
when the film was remade in 1979 as "Nosferatu The Vampyre"
by Werner Herzog, some of the same locations were used.
Because of this awe-inspiring, gothic and realistic look,
Murnau promised to be one of the great cinema directors
when the sound era arrived. Sadly, his career was cut short
tby a fatal accident, only a brief time after signing a
movie deal in North America.
the story, Schreck's Count Orlok is visited by Hutter, a
real estate agent who has come to close a deal for property
being purchased in Isaborg, Germany (although the original
story specified London). During the journey through the
mountains up to the eccentric Count's abode, this Hutter
witnesses sights of unspeakable strangeness--shapes, noises,
a carriage of Phantoms, a castle showing its eerie age,
and (of course) the count himself. On his journey, though,
the bridge which divides the hills and the land of the Phantoms
is the point in which we pay tremendous interest. One reason
might be the use of a camera shot in negative--when the
carriage picks him up to take him to the castle, a few frames
are reversed in shades, and a sense of dread builds. The
sight of the vampire himself only helps provoke it, especially
during the close-ups, in which the camera captures distinctive
shots of large eyebrows and catlike eyeballs, staring at
his prey with determination and, in some ways, sadness.
next day, after his arrival, Hutter writes a letter to his
love, Ellen. He makes note of two marks on his neck, which
have seemingly appeared while he was asleep (although he
believes they are mosquito bites). Of course, the marks
are from the vampire, but not in the way you might expect.
The generic image we see of Dracula shows two fangs on each
side of the four front upper teeth. In the "Nosferatu" version,
the count's fangs are centered.
movie's legend is known to every cinema historian. Despite
its close adaptation of the immortal "Dracula" novel, the
film was never actually authorized by Stoker's widow, at
that time the only person who could license or disapprove
of her husband's work being used for other projects. She
immediately sought out help from the BISA (British Incorporated
Society of Authors), but her efforts did not go very far
(at first). The production company for "Nosferatu," Prana-Film,
filed for bankruptcy shortly thereafter.
the movie managed to break free from limbo in Budapest,
Hungary. Such a surfacing only inflamed Stoker's widow with
anger, and after the owner of the film refused to turn over
some of the profit to her, courts ordered all the existing
prints to be immediately destroyed. At the time, the film
was thought to have died with the silent era. But like "The
Passion Of Joan Of Arc," another obscure classic with an
uncertain future, a print managed to show up years later.
Movies that endure this much heartache resurface because
they were meant to be seen, and "Nosferatu" has assuredly
stood the test of time.
it comes to vampire stories, "Nosferatu" is one of the great
achievements of the cinema--something incomparable by the
other bloodsucker classics, like the Francis Ford Coppola
version of "Bram Stoker's Dracula," and Carl Dreyer's near-silent
sound picture "Vampyr." Murnau's is an achievement that
reminds us that the simple, structured approaches towards
the legend of Dracula are the ones that really terrify--not
those in which the vampires dress up in capes, have shoe
polish in their hair, and show off their fangs more often
than they use them to bite a neck.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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