Nosferatu, 1922. 8/10

The best vampire movie, and one of the best horror movies. Max Shreck seems to actually be a vampire. Almost a hundred years after Nosferatu, his Count Orlock is still the most frightening presence ever on screen.

At least one reviewer mentioned that Shreck was a vampire playing a human playing a vampire; I’m remembering a modern movie (sorry, I’m not quick on recalling the title) with just that premise. Even Shreck’s shadows are scary. I agree with the review that pointed out the blend of Romantic German influence (the scenic aspects) and the German Expressionist touches (almost every scene with Orlock).

Seeing Nosferatu again after many years, the differing motifs are more noticeable, but work well. Definitely Romanticism delved into the bizarre, decrepit, and ghostly; it’s the “phantom” world mentioned by the Transylvanian native. The Expressionistic interior scenes complement with their claustrophobic, hallucinatory feel. At times, though, the atmosphere doesn’t seem supported by the tone projected by some of the characters.

Hutter seems an almost comic character, oblivious and even annoying. He’s not really sympathetic. After all, his motive for going to Transylvania is completely monetary; he not only leaves his wife in the lurch, but puts her in danger by his affiliation with Orlock. And it’s her power that destroys Orlock; her husband is more or less useless, despite all of his hand wringing.

The character I had the most trouble with was Knoch. I suppose we’re to assume that he’s had prior dealings with Orlock. This isn’t stated, but it must be so, because he’s vampiric himself; he even looks a bit like Orlock. Another clue is that he can read the weird hieroglyphic letter from Orlock. What I didn’t understand was why and how he goes back to the asylum after escaping.

In one scene, in a field, Knoch he’s inexplicably sort of cavorting around. At other times he’s simply goofy. I get that he’s supposed to be nuts, but it plays like unexpected comic relief. Like Hutter, Knoch subverts the tone without adding much to the story.

I like how Ellen lures Orlock to his death. In most vampire lore, the innocent woman is simply prey, and has no intrinsic power over the vampire. It does make sense that Orlock, not being a rational creature, would inadvertently endanger himself for the right amount of lust.

It did seem odd that the vampire book that Hutter refers to uses the name Dracula. Maybe Murnau skirted the legal usage of that word by using it only as a reference, and not as a character’s name.

The period setting was convincing. The clothing styles for both the middle-class and peasant characters was very authentic. The town crier and lamplighter were great touches in the Bremen scenes. What didn’t quite add up was that the streets were always deserted when Orlock was moving about with his coffins. Even in the middle of the night you’d think somebody or some thing would be about in a large city.

I really had to steel myself to watch Nosferatu again; it’s that scary. There’s nothing like Shreck standing up in the coffin, rats scurrying all over, as the stunned sailor looks on. I feel kind of traitorous not giving this a ’10’; but some bits seemed off in this time around. 8/10.

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