‘Tis the season for ghouls and ghosts, witches and werewolves and, most important of all, horror movies. This October, I’m looking at some of my all-time favorite horror films, ranging from blood-soaked nightmares to artsy, dark-fantasy films, starting with F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Does it stand the test of time, or has it lost its bite over the years? Lets find out!
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)
In my humble opinion, Nosferatu is one of the most influential and well-designed horror films ever made, defining the modern vampire mythos and inspiring a new wave of gothic horror movies in the years to come. Originally intended as an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, copyright issues forced F.W. Murnau to use original characters for his screenplay. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, as the liberties he took with Stoker’s source material are now the standard in vampire lore, and have even affected subsequent adaptations of Dracula himself.
Story-wise, the movie plays out much like the original Stoker novel. A realtor named Thomas Hutter (John Harker) is given a chance to sell German (English) property to an eccentric Romanian count named Orlok (Dracula), who happens to be a terrifying creature of the night. Thomas and Ellen (Mina) must stop him before he kills the people in their town, and the films titular monster (in a deviation from the novel) is ultimately vanquished by sunlight after drinking blood. This iconic scene is the basis for the modern vampire’s fear of the day and, contrary to popular opinion, has nothing to do with sparkling like diamonds.
The thing to keep in mind about Nosferatu is that unlike Universal’s take on Dracula, this film is an art-house piece. An example of German expressionism in action, the film employed heavy shadows, exaggerated visuals (seriously, look at Orlok’s friggin hands!) and a stagy tone that stands apart from Universal’s take on the Count. It’s nightmarish, weird, and even a horror vet such as myself gets chills during the boat scene and when he opens Sutter’s door. This is partially due to the sexual undertones of the Dracula story, which though toned down immensely in the Universal movie, are present in Nosferatu. If Count Dracula is a suave, seductive gentleman of the night, Orlok is a creepy stalker who collects knives and sends you weird messages on Facebook, and it’s precisely that creepiness that makes him such a great movie monster.
He’s not as immediately scary as say, Jason or the shark from Jaws, but he’s just as dangerous, if not more so. By the end of the film, he racks up a body count so sizable, people legitimately believe there’s a pandemic on the loose, with people dropping like flies left and right. Even a Predator would envy you at that point. Plus, the concept of some bald guy wringing his hands as he stares hungrily at the cut on your finger is well… scary. And as much as I adore Lugosi’s take on Dracula, I have to admit that Orlok is the creepiest of the Dracula interpretations. He may not be as marketable, but well… maybe that’s the point. While I love the Universal movies, it’s obvious that they cut out a lot of the source material in order to appeal to a mass audience. But Nosferatu has no such limitations. It’s masterfully crafted, beautifully dark, and still creepy as hell.
The version I watched included a soundtrack by Type O Negative, which went exceptionally well with the dark, Gothic visuals of the film. I personally feel that while the original score has its merits, this version is the best one available for modern viewers. You can find the original public domain version for free online, but I’d definitely recommend buying the TON-scored movie and watching them both.
So those are my thoughts on Nosferatu, an oldie but a goodie. Got any spooky movies you plan on watching this Halloween? Let us know in the comments section below!