These are words that can invoke fear in the very heart of a person if he or she is in the right mood and have the right evil character in mind; a mood where the imagination is permitted to roam freely in the shadows of the night. One specific character that comes to mind is a famous man of the night, one who can lurk around corners; hide in a closet or underneath the bed, the man can hide practically anywhere. The man could even take shapes of bats supposedly. That man is known as Dracula, also known as Nosferatu. Nosferatu would not always be scary if he had not been portrayed this way by the director F. W. Murnau in his 1922 film Nosferatu, with Max Schreck. Had Murnau used bright lighting, and a normal average man walking the streets who occasionally liked to bite people then Dracula (the Count) would not be as scary as he has been considered in the past.
Murnau used his special skills of camera angles, lighting, editing and influence of theatrics within his film Nosferatu to re-create Bram Stoker's original Dracula. The landscapes that were shot on location in Germany helped to take the audience out of their normal environment and tossed them into a world unknown to them (unless of course they were from Germany). Being in this world that they are not familiar with allowed them to let their imagination run unguarded, even more so then if they were watching a film about their hometown. Now that the audience's imagination is in the right location they are ready to see if the villain meets their expectations.
Murnau was ready for this challenge. He first bathed his heroes in lots of light to allow them to seem pure and hopeful, not knowing of the danger that was in their future. Then the odd lighting (known as negative footage, adds the right amount of ghostly effects) occurs as Hutter is riding in a carriage to greet his new investor. This investor is in the market for an abandoned, secluded house. Once Hutter (one of the heroes in this movie) arrives at the home of the Count, Murnau allows the set to be swallowed up in shadows so that the imagination of the audience is tricked into being anxious.
The distorted proportions of the Count's body add to the audience perpetual feeling of unrest. He stands tall, or at least is portrayed as so by camera angles from the bottom looking up as though he towers over his victims. His hunching shoulders add to his sinister looks. The Count's long, gangly, sharp nailed hands add to the audience's imagination, as though they could literally feel his hands being wrapped around their necks. The rest of the Count's costume was definitely fitting for the character to represent Dracula. He wears dark simple clothing, with dark circles under his eyes, pasty skin, and elfish pointed ears. He also has hair that sprouts from everywhere as though he were an animal. His sharp fanged teeth make a person want to wrap a scarf drenched in garlic sauce around his or her neck. The doorways on the sets that were barely large enough for the Count to walk through added to the illusion of his massive body.
To add to the eeriness of it all, everywhere the Count goes darkness follows as though his very presence makes the flames of lanterns extinguish themselves. When he is in his "castle," shadows loom. When he is walking in the streets, there are archways with shadows. When he is on the sail boat the dark shadowed side of the ship is filmed not the light side that the sun is hitting. All of this darkness allows the viewer to be enveloped in it as well, for we all know that in the darkness is where evil lies. This is instilled in us from birth, whether we like to admit it or not. What we do not know we fear, and what we fear tends to be evil. In the darkness it is so dark that we do not know what is there; thus, we fear it; and so it must be evil (according to what we are taught).
The other special effects besides camera angles and negative film footage are the abnormal manifestations of strength that the villain displays, and the moving transparent through walls. Murnau used stop-motion photography to allow the audience to see the Count moving in fast "jerky accelerated action" symbolizing his strength to carry coffins swiftly and easily (Cook 101). As most people know, hauling up coffins are not like lifting a pillow off of a bed; it is strenuous work. Let us not forget that these coffins the Count is lifting are filled with dirt, so they are not empty either, Murnau makes the Count look as though carrying a coffin was no big to do, as though one person could do it. The Count makes the viewer feel that the group of pall bearers that we typically see carrying a coffin is too much as though one person was all that was needed. The moving through walls just required Murnau to edit in some fading of the character in and out of the scene, which was very advanced for his time. Murnau could have let the character open the door magically without even touching it (as he as done up to this point), but this "fading" through the walls adds to the imagination that the viewer is using.
This thriller that Murnau created was something different from the movies, which the previous audiences had been viewing. It was this film that really seemed to allow the audience to have some imagination to take part, rather than simplistic films that spoon-feed everything to the viewer. In Nosferatu, the viewers were forced to let the Count creep into their minds while the movie was being viewed and at night, in the dark as they walked home, they probably could almost feel the presence of him walking right next to them. They probably felt as though they could scream for help, but it would be useless because he could muffle their screams so that no one could hear them. All of this fear and imagination was instilled by simple camera angles, lighting tricks, and critical editing, brought to you by a man name Murnau.
Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 4th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004.