Director: F.W. Murnau
Studio: Prana Film
Starring: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder
Full title: Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror
Genre: black and white, silent film, foreign film, vampire, Dracula
Scare score: F
Let me start by saying that the version of this classic horror film I just watched is a more recent, American release which uses all of the original names from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. In the original release, Prana Film did not have the rights to the novel or its characters, so you may be familiar with the version in which all of the character names are different. I’ll try to briefly account for both below with the names listed as such: novel/ original release.
Plot overview: The young and naive real estate agent Jonathan Harker/ Thomas Hutter (von Wangenheim) is sent by his conniving and crazy boss Reinfeld/ Knock (Alexander Granach) to the distant, supposedly cursed lands of Count Dracula/ Count Orlok (Schreck) in the mountains of Transylvania. After a discomforting night at Dracula’s castle, Harker awakens with two large bite marks on his neck. Although he quickly realizes that Dracula may be an evil man (or monster…), he has already sold him a house – across the street from his own – and must hurry home before it is too late. While the Count makes his way aboard a ship, killing off its crew and captain one by one, a terrible plague also spreads across Europe. Harker meanwhile makes his own journey home to save his family and friends from the oncoming evil. When Harker’s wife Mina/ Ellen (Schröder) learns that the Nosferatu can only be stopped by a sacrifice of blood from a female pure of heart, she must decide whether to give her life for the sake of her husband, her friends, and even the world.
More than anything, this movie is very creepy. Most black and white, silent films have a certain uneasy quality about them, so certainly a horror film is no exception. Although there is music playing underneath the entire film, we find ourselves with our eyes glued to the screen, watching chaos ensue as the terrifying Nosferatu slowly makes his way across Europe, feasting on his prey. Speaking of the music, the darker organ stuff is pretty scary in and of itself. The symphonic components are very romantic and dramatic, adding all the character to the movie that the production and acting itself do not. Overall, an excellent score, although it could be even darker and scarier in most parts, because after all, I think sound is the single most important component in making a horror movie truly scary.
Schreck is brilliant and the makeup and costume are perfect. What a lasting, iconic image! While the production is too old to actually be that scary, the Nosferatu himself is what adds terror to the film. The way he glides, or the way he merely gets closer and closer without moving (thanks to the purposeful choppy editing) – which I think is the scariest way for a monster or madman to approach a victim (or the audience) – the way he remains so pale and skinny with his shoulders haunched and his awful, spider-like hands waiting for a new neck to bite into… it gives me chills. Sorry to have only found such a strange video, but if you mute your computer, watch the first few seconds and then skip to 2:05, I think this is the scariest moment of the movie (just because of how creepy it is), along with the Count lurking towards Harker one night in the castle, and the extremely iconic image of his shadow on the staircase. Those hands! Lastly, the best/ creepiest line (is it still a line if it’s not spoken?) in the film has got to go to Count Dracula when he first sees a picture of Mina: “Is that your wife? What a lovely throat!” Genius.
I didn’t like von Wangenheim one bit. He is so annoying, from his facial expressions to the way he always seems to be running or skipping around. I understand that in this time period actors had to be overdramatic to portray emotion due to the silent aspect, and I also understand that these are foreign actors in a foreign film, but he is still a little annoying. Also, terrible haircut. Schröder is much better as his wife, who is the character with true guts anyway. Powerful women in horror films! Bam!
Otherwise, I found the filming locations very impressive and the special effects also good for the time period. I loved the way the Nosferatu doesn’t even have to open doors or close his coffin, as everything magically takes care of itself. Creepy.
Fun fact: “Nosferatu” is believed to come from a very old Romanian word basically meaning “vampire.”
Final critique: If you haven’t already, you should see this film. Vampires are all the rage these days (gag me), but Schreck’s Nosferatu character is truly terrifying. I would much rather be viciously mauled to death by any vampire from Twilight than even see this Nosferatu anywhere near me. As you probably saw, I did give this film a pretty low rating, but there is an easy explanation for that: it’s not scary, and because it’s so old it becomes a little boring in parts. Some scenes are totally out of place, and even unnecessary. One more round in the editing room would have done this classic some good. An important announcement, Horror Buff wants a modern remake: keep the makeup/ exact look of this Nosferatu; add some gore (picture that gross vampire puncturing someone’s neck); add dialogue and make sure it’s not cheesy; add a terrifying score, you can even keep it classical; get rid of what’s unnecessary in the plot. It would be a simple project, and you could even keep the remake as a period piece, or modernize it accordingly. A new version of Nosferatu (let me once again stress keeping the Count Dracula’s looks EXACTLY the same) would be terrifying. Lastly, because this film isn’t overly scary, I recommend for all you scaredy cats out there to take advantage of this classic by watching it on a dark, stormy night with one or two friends. The images of the title vampire are sure to give you bloody good nightmares.