Every year around this time I manage to get a few horror films in, but true to form, I never get to everything I plan. I’ve planned for Nosferatu every year since I started this blog it seems, but this year I’m finally getting to it. It’s strange to finally see a film this revered and not really know what to think about it.
Bram Stoker’s estate famously sued this film for following the plot of Dracula too closely, and it’s easy to see why they won. The film begins with young Hutter (Gustav V. Wangenheim) traveling to the Carpathians to sell an ominously deserted house to the sinister Count Orlock (Max Schreck) on behalf of his boss, Knock (Alexander Granach). While traveling, Hutter reads the legend of Nosferatu, a monster that feeds on human blood, but doesn’t suspect the legend as truth until he cuts his finger in Orlock’s presence. He then falls ill, as Orlock prepares to move into the house across from him. Knock goes insane, Hutter’s wife Ellen (Greta Schroeder) has horrible premonitions, and it becomes increasingly clear that they must stop Count Orlock’s reign of terror.
I saw the film on TCM, and according to the intro this is the most complete version of the film in existence today. That doesn’t stop it from feeling a tad scattered though (to be honest, I think on some level the story of Dracula is just like that). At times it’s difficult to see how all the characters relate to each other, especially Professor Bulwer (John Gottowt) who I guess is supposed to be the German equivalent of Van Helsing. The characters seem to put great trust in him towards the end, though it’s difficult to see why. Things also got a little mixed up with all the traveling to different parts of the world in the middle of the film.
The real triumph of this film is the character design. That’s also primarily where this film declares its German Expressionism. It’s not so much in the sets that you see it, but more in the eerie appearance and exaggerated movements of Count Orlock and Knock. The sight of Count Orlock especially has become iconic at this point, so later in the film when you only see his shadow coming to prey on our main characters, you instantly recognize the dire situation they are in.
Like many silent films, Nosferatu is in black and white but they tinted scenes afterwards to convey time of day. We get blue at nighttime, yellow during the day, and red during sunrise or sunset. There are more visual tricks in the film, including the use of reversal film, stop motion animation to make doors open on their own in the presence of Orlock, and decreased frame rate to make some supernatural travel appear to take place in super speed. It was these little touches, along with the character design, that I appreciated most about the film.
I may not be raving about Nosferatu as I should be, and that’s because I definitely enjoyed certain small aspects of the film more than the film itself. Perhaps this is a product of pieces of the film going missing over time, or because the film has been around for so long now that I fail to see how influential it is. Nevertheless, I’m glad I saw it and it was a great way to kick off my horror movie watching this year.
“Nosferatu. Does this word not sound like the midnight call of the Bird of Death? Do not utter it, or the images of life will fade – into pale shadows and ghostly dreams will rise from your heart and feed your Blood.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
For Further Reading: