Wednesday, October 1, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - Nosferatu (1922)

This silent German film is the granddaddy of all vampire movies. It is also the creepiest. German director F.W. Murnau wanted to make a movie based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Stoker’s widow refused permission, so Murnau took certain liberties, most especially changing the names of the main characters. Count Dracula became Count Orlok [well-played by Max Schrek]; Jonathan Harker became Thomas Hutter. There is a “Lucy” character [Annie], but she doesn’t die. The “Mina” character [Ellen] does die at the very end. “Renfield” isn’t the bug-eating lunatic from the novel [though he does go insane before Orlok arrives at his final destination], but he is the real estate agent [named Knock] who employs the Hutter character.

Many Dracula features remain intact – Orlok sleeps in a coffin, can only go out at night, can be killed by sunlight, and can communicate telepathically with his intended victims. But instead of the suave, debonair creature immortalized by Béla Lugosi, Dracula/Orlok is a hideously ugly, hairless creature with a pointed nose, pointed ears and extremely long fingers. Orlok looks like the black rats that follow him everywhere he goes. Those rats that follow him bring the Black Death with them. How’s that for symbolism? When Orlok drinks his victims dry, they just die – they don’t come back as vampires themselves.

Although the characters names were changed, the Stoker Dracula story is pretty much intact, a fact that did not escape Stoker’s heirs. They sued Murnau’s studio for copyright infringement and won. All copies of the movie were supposed to be destroyed, but one print survived. For extra credit you can watch Shadow of the Vampire (2000) [I blogged about that film a few years ago], which is a fictionalized account of the making of Nosferatu. If you want to see how German Expressionists use light and shadow and symbolism to heighten the horror factor, look no further than Nosferatu.

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