Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Nosferatu (1922)

"Nosferatu" (1922, F.W. Murnau, Prana Film) is a German Expressionist silent horror movie based on Bram Stoker's "Dracula". Although, because it was not an authorised adaptation, in order to avoid copyright infringement, they changed the names of the characters and some small pieces of the plot. Not that this helped them at all, when the Stoker family took them to court...

Count Orlok (Max Schreck) is a vampire count living in Transylvania in the Carpathians. Sound familiar?

He is interested in purchasing a house in Wisborg, Germany (hint, not a real city) and contacts a company in Wisborg owned by a character called Knock (Renfield by any other name. Played by Alexander Granach). Knock sends young Hutter (The Harker character. Played by Gustav von Wangenheim) to the Carpathian region to meet with the count and deal business.

Hutter sets off immediately, much to the upset of his wife, Ellen (Mina. Played by Greta Schröder).

The film follows the general Dracula tale with Hutter travelling to the region, the locals being wary of the name of the count, getting to the castle by carriage and then by foot as the driver will go not closer, wolves, Orlok being creepy, a small cut and an overreaction to the "Precious blood" from the Count... yadda, yadda.

We also see Orlok travel by boat to Wisborg, killing the crew as he does in most versions of the famous tale, travelling in coffins filled with earth... and so on.

Orlok takes Ellen under his spell, distills fears in the townsfolk of plague, and drives Knock insane by turning him into a human-vampire-bug-eating-underling (not Human Servant if you read laurell K. Hamilton, you'll know that's entirely different).

The film is very old, and can be seen for free on YouTube as a slightly remastered copy with some subtitles for the ye olde script, where needed. Although all the dialogue cards are in English (but sometimes difficult to read, 'Hutter' looks like 'Butter' which just made us think of "South Park"!)

I do love this jumpy old fashioned film. Watch for things and people just popping out of sight or appearing from nowhere!

The real beauty of this film is not the acting or the plot, it's the fact it's a silent film with a traditional piano track. The makeup for the time is also excellent and the iconic image of the Nosferatu looming over the sleeping Ellen is one of the best known in cinema.

A real history lesson for any horror fan!

Some of the special effects must have dazzled the viewers in 1922; stop motion, Orlok rising into an upstanding position from a prone position, doors closing themselves, coffin lids rising... etc...

It is evident through most of the scenes that they have been shot in daylight, despite there being a vampire present... as the film equipment of the time would not have captured such scenes in a dark setting. And I'm afraid ol' Orlok has a reflection.

The overacting used in this period of film to convey the emotions and plot are hilarious for modern viewers! But were quite standard for the time, so don't go thinking this film is, in any way, bad. And Hutter's grinning, expressive face is just a hoot!

Ellen's 'I'm-sad-so-sad' look makes her look almost zombie-like and that's before she's even under the Nosferatu's spell!

Some of the scenes are just completely random, and the plot can be a bit jumpy. But on the whole, it's very well captured and the quality of the YouTube video is actually pretty damn good! Especially considering that it is not made from the original (and only, negative) but several later copies strung together! The original film may have been destroyed when they lost the rights to Stoker, I can't remember.

The demonic horses were my favourite part; real horse and cart sped up to look 'inhumanly fast' and the horses were wearing masks to make their faces look more like dragons!

Also, watch for the shipmate who looks a bit like Harry from "Dumb and Dumber"! And the weird stripey 'werewolf' in the woods!

This is a film strictly for real horror-history-geeks or people studying cinematography as an academic interest. It's not a fast or scary film and the Nosferatu's creepy, sinister movements are just laughable to the modern viewer who are more used to masked slashers and super-fast vampires in leather. Although, if you sit in a nice dark room with some candles burning, maybe there's a thunderstorm outside, this film can be enjoyed to its full extent.

Really good fun, and it lets you appreciate how horror cinema has developed.

[Picture: Arts Guild]