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Friday, 3 October 2014

A Tribute to Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror

One of the earliest, (and greatest), horror films
As a fan of horror movies I could not pass up the chance to review at least one horror movie in the month of horror itself. I wanted to do one of the early classics and was torn between The Cabinet of Dr Caligari but ultimately decided to review the movie that inspired an entire genre. For this review it is more of an analyse and an ode to this great film. A perfect example of German Surrealism from the 1920s let's see the master of the silent horror movie with Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror.

Plot: Nosferatu is a plot that you will know, The film originated as an attempt to adapt Bram Stoker's iconic gothic novel Dracula onto the silver screen although there was an earlier adaptation of the novel before Nosferatu. Two years prior, (1920), in Russia a Dracula film was released but unfortunately all copies of the film have either been lost or destroyed so we cannot possibly see the earliest adaptation of Stoker's novel. The director F.W.Murnau and the producers could not gain the rights from Stoker's widow but luckily they managed to rewrite the script including changing the vampire's name from Dracula to Count Orlok, although some copies released in the US had his name still being Dracula, and a few other characters names being changed. Although Murnau changed the ending about how Orlok met his end in order to further differentiate Nosferatu from Dracula but the ramifications of this change was giant.
Orlok meets his end in the rays of the sun with superb acting
 Murnau changed Orlok perishing in the sunlight, (with some of the greatest acting in a 1920s movie), as like in folklore evil is done away by the warmth of the sun. Before this vampires did not die in sunlight; quite often they were weakened like Dracula was in Stoker's novel. Even the Strigoii vampires of Romanian folklore were unaffected by sunlight! The impact of this scene allowed sunlight to be the archenemy of the vampire from other adaptations of Dracula, including the Hammer Dracula films, to the Tomb of Dracula comics and the Underworld films. The loss of the sun as a way to kill a vampire was only left out in one film that I know of: Coppola's Dracula, (there is another particular series but I decline to name it in a review to such a masterpiece).

Music: Of course silent films rely heavily on their music and generally it is purposefully melodramatic to help emphasise the emotions of the actors. Nosferatu however is subtle. It creeps up to you like a shadow in the night. Quiet until it is too late to escape. One particular scene springs to mind which perfectly shows the masterpiece of the music which is when Count Orlok creeping up a stairwell; his long fingers casting sinister shadows across the wall as his silhouette lurks menacingly further after his prey. The music is slow and filled with dread, perfectly capturing the nefarious deed to which Orlok plans to commit.
One of the most iconic scenes in horror movie history
 Orlok- Of course I have to talk about Orlok himself. He easily steals the movie and overshadows the rest of the cast. Played by Max Schreck he gives a stunning performance, possibly the best performance prior to the arrival of Lon Chaney. Nowadays we view vampires as suave, sophisticated and cunning but Schreck portrays Orlock as something different. He portrays him as cunning yes but someone who wouldn't seduce you like Christopher Lee in Dracula would or Kiefer Sutherland in Lost Boys. He acts like the classical bogeyman, creeping along with bony hands waiting to bite your neck. Schreck as Orlock perfectly shows what a folkloric vampire should be. Even the makeup on his face make him look like a rat, cunning and frightening. I particularly like one scene where Orlock walks into a doorway and completely fills the doorway, leaving no escape for the audience. It is a scene that needs to be watched to be appreciated.
A snapshot from the iconic scene
 Extra snippets- There is so much things that I love extra about the film such as the set is still around! The buildings is Wismar for example where Hutton, (Nosferatu's Jonathan Harker), departs for his life is still around. I cannot begin to say how many times I've seen scenes from the film in other aspects of the media including Spongebob Squarepants! For over ninety years this film is still influencing our culture and I find it mindboggling how amazing that is. The film was even banned in Sweden just because how scary it is which shows you don't need jumpscares and gore to scare people, just shadows and music. Nosferatu was even a lost film briefly. Stoker's heirs sued the film makers and the court ordered all copies of the film destroyed and for years another early adaptation of Dracula remained lost alongside many other classic films including a Frankenstein film dating from even before World War One! Luckily it turns out not every copy of the film was destroyed and we still have one of the greatest examples of the German Surrealist movement.

I am quite happily giving Nosferatu 10/10. For superb acting, being a fine example of German Surrealism, stunning music and for being one of the earliest horror movies alongside The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and The Golem it is easy to see why.

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