Nosferatu: Setting the Pace

         Nosferatu was made in 1922. Having seen the film eighty-four years after it was made you would think it would have a dampened impact on the viewer. The opposite is true. This film was as striking and intriguing in 2006 as it was in 1922. Vampire movies are commonplace since the 90’s, and all have then have been so-so. This film is excellently done and sets the pace for vampire films for the next century. Nosferatu had a lot of trouble ever making it to the big screen. Director F.W. Murnau wanted to make a film based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. He was denied rights to the novel by the Stoker estate and made due with what he had. Despite not having the story he wanted, Stoker still made a film that is excellent on many levels.

         What I think is most interesting about this film is the eeriness the vampire. Murnau actually found Max Schrek, who played Graf Orlock, “strikingly ugly” in real life so he decided he would not need more than some vampire make up with pointy ears and false teeth. The vampire still comes across as extremely unnerving and spooky. Shrek’s portrayal of the vampire was so convincing that some people actually believed that Shrek was a vampire portraying a vampire on film. It did not help that Shrek’s name translates from German to fright, fear, terror, or horror. Unfortunately Shrek was not really a vampire, though his performance was utterly believable and eerie. In the 90’s several vampire movies were made with eye-popping special effects, make up, and costumes. The outcome for vampire movies in the 90’s was good but did not really achieve the right reaction for a vampire. Nosferatu was so suspenseful and subtle that it was frightening. The vampire did not move with lightning speed, transform into a giant bat, or rip people’s throats out. He stalked his pray with a look in his eyes from the pits of Hell.

         Something that throws most people off in Nosferatu is the use of shadows. Sure vampires cannot see their shadows; but, as long as we are going along with what is true and is not. Vampires do not really exist in the first place, so why not portray them any way you want? Murnau was greatly influenced by Swedish director Victor Sjostrom, and that could be attributed to his use of shadows. Murnau’s use of shadows is exquisite in this film. The viewers actually see the shadows just as much if not more than we actually see the vampire himself. Personally I would much rather have vampires with beautifully horrifying shadows than vampires without. Another thing most vampire lovers obsess about is the fact that the vampire is seen in the daytime. This is actually not true. When the film originally was produced, there was a blue tint that was put over it to distinguish night from day. Most of the film was shot in the daytime, but the blue tint was meant to portray night.

         One thing that is unusual for the 1920’s is the fact that this film was shot on location in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, which are considered Dracula’s old stomping grounds. Location filming was rare in Germany at the time of the film’s production. Most directors would have used fancy studio backdrops, but Murnau was a perfectionist whose movies had a lot of realism so it is no surprise that he would not settle for a studio backdrop. To me this just enhances the film even more. It is difficult to jump into the world of the movie when you have a fake background.

         Despite setbacks with copyrights this film has an excellent storyline. It focuses on real estate broker, Jonathon Harker (Gustav von Wangenheim), who goes to meet with the Count, who is a vampire, about buying some property. Harker is a married man, and the film focuses deeply on his relationship with his wife. In the beginning their marriage is very distant, and they do not completely understand each other or perhaps even love one another. Harker, his wife, and the count are all connected to each other in this film. The image of a mirror is used to connect the Count with Harker. His wife is connected to the count as well, and she is the one who eventually destroys him.

         A more recent vampire film that sticks out prominently in my mind is Blade, directed in 1998 by Stephen Norrington. Blade is actually a comic book turned movie, whereas Nosferatu is a book turned movie. Blade is a good enough movie with tons of action sequences. It follows the vampire characteristics such as the vampire having no shadow, not being able to handle crosses, casting no reflection, and so forth. Where the film lacks is content and horror. Vampires are supposed to be scary. Blade relies on special effects and what I call “awing” the audience rather than good content. Nosferatu is full of great content, storyline, and horror. The story line exceeds any other vampire film because it was taken from the original vampire story, though it was edited and changed around to protect the copyright on Stoker’s version.

         Although the film is not the exact story that Stoker put out in his book, and it does not exactly follow all the rules of vampire myth, the film demands respect on every level. It was revolutionary for its time and is still nightmarishly scary eighty-four years later. I would recommend this film to anyone and everyone, especially those “vampire experts” who think they know what a good vampire movie is. You have not seen a good vampire movie and cannot fully respect vampires until you’ve seen Nosferatu.

Curt Stewart

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