I’m back! And since I’m back, I thought we’d go way back to the oldest movie I’ve ever seen. This is F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent classic, Nosferatu.
The book, Dracula came out in 1897 and was crazy popular. Just like Twilight, but good. People gobbled up the story that touched on fears that are still relevant today, like sexuality, the role of women in society, and post-colonialism. Stage adaptations came out pretty quickly after the book was published, so it was only a matter of time before a movie was made. The German studio, Prana Film, decided it wanted a vampire movie and wanted an edition of Bram Stoker’s work. Sadly, they didn’t have the rights to Dracula. They plowed ahead, changing details, but it wasn’t enough. Stoker’s heirs sued and the studio went bankrupt. The judge ordered that all copies be destroyed and we only know Nosferatu today because a print escaped the fire.
The movie follows the basic plot of Dracula. Jonathon (Gustav Von Wangenheim) and Nina (Greta Schröder) are a young couple who are deeply in love. It should be noted here that the names differ depending on the edition of the movie you have. I’ve seen this at the Landmark Loews in Jersey City and on DVD and both of those editions call the couple Jonathon and Nina. But there are also editions where they’re called Ellen and Thomas Hutter.
Jonathon works as a clerk for Renfield (Alexander Granach). He’s sent to Count Orlock’s castle in Transylvania to deliver some real estate papers. Orlock wants to move to their city, Bremen. There are some red flags on the trip. Villagers near the castle warn Jonathon to stay away from the castle, especially after dark. Count Orlock (Max Schreck) looks like a more robust Mr. Burns and gets very excited when Jonathon cuts his finger. Jonathon wakes up with fang marks on his neck that he attributes to spiders or mosquitoes. Jonathon reads a book that he took from the inn and realizes that Orlock is a vampire.
The next day, Jonathon finds Orlock’s coffin. He finally escapes the castle but is knocked unconscious. He wakes up in the hospital, with Orlock gone to claim the mansion right across the street from his own home.
An empty ship arrives in Bremen. Its hold is full of rats and the captain is dead, tied to the wheel.
People assume it’s the plague and it kind of is. Orlock is in town and, unlike his other incarnations, he doesn’t make more vampires, he just kills. He has his sights set on Nina as his next victim.
I really like this Dracula incarnation. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Anne Rice vampires (Mega-excited for her new book), but I like that Orlock is ugly. He brings death and destruction with him. Orlock isn’t looking for friends or lovers, he just wants dinner. A classic monster.
This movie suffers on the small screen. It was made before any director even considered that there’d be home entertainment. I originally saw it at the Landmark Loew’s in Jersey City. It was played on a huge screen with a live organist playing the music. The shots look so striking when they’re huge and the music was nice and creepy. The DVD I’m basing this review on came with an orchestral score but I think the organ music was better. Most of the music for Nosferatu was lost and the soundtrack is usually based on reconstructions. I’m not sure where the organist got the music he used from but it was definitely spooky. If you have access to an event like this, I recommend taking advantage of it. It’s a way of supporting cool indie events and a way of saying “Fuck you” to the movie studios that insist on giving us Transformers 17.
This movie isn’t scary to my modern sensibilities. What it does well is establish tension and atmosphere. This is the perfect movie to project on a wall if you’re throwing a Halloween party and then blast Bauhaus as the soundtrack. Nosferatu is the only silent movie I’ve ever seen but it makes me want to see more. It falls in the category of German Expressionism and I’ve heard these movies–without sound and with sound–can be very creepy, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Student of Prague, The Golem: How He Came into the World, and M.