“The Silent Dracula”

         When you talk about silent films, you have to mention Nosferatu. In 1921, F. W. Murnau set out to make a film based on Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, but was denied the rights by Stoker’s estate. Determined to make a horror film, Murnau simply changed the title to Nosferatu and then went on to make what is known as a classic film in the silent film era.

         What is so different from Nosferatu and many of the others films of the time was that most of the film was shot on actually locations around Eastern Europe; the production hardly used any studio sets. What makes the most haunting feature though is the sense of realism and the expressionism (most evident in the interiors of Orlok's Castle) that gives the film its hypnotic visual power. The creative genius of Murnau is the way he builds suspense throughout the film. The way Count Orlok disappears through the building is a special effect that was way ahead of its time.

         The vampire character has been romanticized as an archetype (particularly during the '90s) that one cannot but feel that most horror fans have forgotten exactly what made us afraid of these guys to begin with. Murnau's Nosferatu is just such a reminder; and, because of that, is the only screen version of ‘Dracula’ that is really true to the original concept of the vampire.

         While some could interpret this tale as a subtext to Nazism or anti-Semitism, at its core, it is simply the tale of a monster, who brings ruin and death in his wake. That such a tale has managed to survive its era, considering the obstacles that could have totally removed it from view, is the gain of all who have seen.

         All in all, this classic, silent film has been a milestone for the history of cinema and has inspired many other vampire films. Murnau’s creation, although basically taken from Stoker’s ‘Dracula,’ is without a doubt an original masterpiece.

Derek Owen

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