Vintage Reviews: Nosferatu

F.W. Murnau‘s film is a true classic of not just horror films, but of films in general. Made in 1922 it is the first film version of Dracula. This fact also means we are very lucky to be able to watch it at all. Neither Murnau nor the production company had acquired the rights to ‘Dracula’. They did change names – Dracula to Orlok and Harker to Hutter, for instance – and locations, but it was still far too close to the book. Bram Stokers widow sued the German production company, and a judge ordered the film destroyed. Thankfully, at least one copy survived.

And so to the plot: Thomas Hutter is an Estate Agents clerk in the German city of Wisbourg. His employer – the strange Knock – sends him to the Carpathian Mountains – Transylvania! – to sell a house – the one opposite Hutters house – to the mysterious Count Orlok.

The nearer he travels to the Counts castle the more terrified the locals are. The sinister edifice he finally reaches is deserted, apart from the nefarious Count. As the Count heads off to Wisbourg to claim his new home – slowly killing off the crew of the ship one by one – Hutter tries to make it back to warn everyone.

The cities inhabitants succumb to ‘the plague’, causing wide-spread panic.

Only when Hutter’s young wife sacrifices herself – tricking Orlok into being caught by the sun’s rays – does the terror stop.

Incidentally, it is from this film that the myth that vampires can be killed by sunlight starts.

Nosferatu is one of those movies that everyone should see. It maybe silent – and I know that some people will hold that against it – but this is a cinematic icon.
Obviously it is over-melodramatic, but most – if not all – silent films are. The visuals are stunning though. Murnau’s use of light and shade are sublime. His use of shadow to represent the vampire is also brilliant – Orlok’s shadow stalking up the stairs, near the end of the film, is an image most people will recognize.

Max Schreck is one of the creepiest vampires ever to grace the screen. Whilst vampires for a very long time – and even, sometimes, still today – were styled on Lugosi’s Dracula, Schreck’s Orlok is almost unique – only in Salem’s Lot do we find a vampire looking similar.

This is, without a doubt, the best film version of Dracula to exist. To give it any less than 5 out of 5 would be a crime.

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