By Bea Harper
Kommen Unvermeidlicher Todd!
I believe it is safe to say that you are not a vampire fan if you have not seen, what is considered to be the grand-sire of vampire films, ‘Nosferatu’, a silent German Expressionist film directed by the visionary F.W Murnau. Nine years before Bela Lugosi became synonymous with the character of Dracula thanks to Universal, it was Max Schreck who was seen as the face of terror, and for good reason.
I personally feel writing this review is highly redundant considering how well-known and universally appreciated it is, honestly, what is there that I can say that will be any different? I got absolutely nothing to say that would do this film justice. It’s a film that is not only a product of its own time, but it’s also one that looked forward as well. Silent cinema is obviously a defunct institution these days, but when you view films such as ‘Nosferatu’ (films that aren’t just visual-based, instead based upon story and atmosphere), they never fail to hold you within their grasp. To think, this film was almost lost, never to be seen again were it not for some quick artistic license on the part of the film makers. The way I figure it, ‘Nosferatu’ truly did pave the way for vampire cinema. Sure, Count Orlok isn’t who we automatically think of when we hear the name ‘Dracula’ (Bela Lugosi had and always will have that honor), but Orlok is evidence that not all vampires have to be charming, well-suited lounge lizards who have a way with the ladies. In fact, he is a downright grotesque. Pointed, shaven head, spindly fingers, bug-eyes and sharp, rodent teeth, Orlok is more of an abomination rather than a human being.
When Werner Herzog, for all intents and purposes, remade the film in 1979, he too followed this agenda, by ensuring Klaus Kinski’s vampire was a pathetic, miserable creature who brought disease and calamity everywhere it went. ‘Nosferatu’, is what you could consider a nightmarish tale of sickness, not only the physical kind, but also the mental and social. Although Murnau’s film does not make this connection overt, it is still there and it’s something every era can relate to. Orlok is a metaphor for the cruelty of suffering, illness and the indiscriminate nature of death. Orlok cares not about who he infects, he is aware of the turmoil he brings, but he cannot help it- it’s in his nature.
So’s waking up grouchy.
Although Orlok is by no means a romantic creature, he becomes eerily infatuated with Ellen/Mina Hutter/Harker, the wife of Thomas/Jonathan because of her purity (and quite possibly, her presumed virginity). To him, her blood is the song of life, a temporary solace from his suffering, and it is this single-minded obsession that eventually drives him to his doom. It’s a story we have seen countless times, but in ‘Nosferatu’, the impact drives that point right into your mind so much that it becomes unforgettable.
Beauty and ugliness is subjective, but I am in the camp that firmly believes that not only is ‘Nosferatu’ a relevant and inventive film, it really deserves every single bit of praise it receives. Think about it, all of those years ago, people weren’t spoon-fed in movies the way we mostly are now. Audiences were required to use their minds in order to fill out the blanks that these films left; they had to make do with what they were given in terms of what they did see, but also, these films were magic tricks in their own right. Audiences knew what they were watching wasn’t real, but the film’s presentation is what inspired audience’s imaginations. Certainly not all silent films were as masterful as this, but it goes to show the ingenuity and creativity of film back before audiences were constantly bombarded with CGI, explosions and other flashy treats we take for granted these days. ‘Nosferatu’ is not just a film, it is also a legacy, and legacies live on even after their death, or in this case, Undeath.