Wednesday, December 7, 2011


You don't have to love horror movies, silent films, or Germany to admire F.W. Murnau's 1922 film Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (usually known simply as Nosferatu).  The iconic images of actor Max Schreck (a fine German name) as Count Orlok are known the world over.  Even if you've never seen the film, which I find strange, you have seen the images.  Hell, they set the standard for vampire and horror movies.

The film is an adaptation (unauthorized) of Dracula.  There are changes from the book since this was unauthorized, but the story remains essentially the same.  The story isn't what matters, though.  It was the way it was shot that really made an impact on audiences and future and filmmakers.

Murnau's work is the epitome of German Expressionist film.  Everything from the lighting to the sets are composed is textbook.  Some have said that the perfection dilutes the film somewhat, but I would argue those views have been tainted by time.  I have no doubt that were I sitting in pre-Hitler Germany with an audience we would be scared silly.  As someone who has seen far too many horror movies, the film doesn't outright scare me, but it is a moody production that still works its way under the skin.  That's also due in no small part to Schreck.

Before vampires glittered or wore frilly shirts while dancing around New Orleans, Schreck made Orlok rat-like with deliberate movements and some real pathos.  Viewers can't help but be attracted to him and repulsed at the same time.  Few vampire movies have been able to pull that off since, and I have to say that Orlok's screen time is by far my favorite vampire moments on film.

In this age of Twilight it's always good to go back and revisit the masters.  Today's audiences have largely forgotten this film, instead more interested in "Teams," but that doesn't disqualify it as a piece of historic, influential cinema.  I guarantee a hundred years from now people will still be talking about this one (assuming the Mayans aren't right), and Twilight will be but a footnote in cinematic history.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I was not sent this film to review, and if you click on a link I may earn a commission.

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