Nosferatu (1922) - 9/10
Updated: Apr 25, 2021
F.W. Murnau’s classic telling of the Dracula legend. Some of the details are a little different from Bram Stoker’s book, but only names and places. They’ll be some real die hard Dracula fans that can wax on about the myths and meaning of one version over another and what it all means. That’s not me though, if you want that, Google it. Here I’m more concerned with how this film looks and feels. The answer to both is, creepy! Shot in the early 20s, it’s of course black and white, 4:3, flickery... and silent. The version I’ve watched had restored title cards for the minimal dialogue. Which is a shame, but didn’t detract too much and the scene setters still used the original German hand drawn black letters which really add to the tone. Essentially it’s the well known story. A rich vampiric Count from Transylvania wants to buy a new home and a young naive estate agent goes to flog him one in his hometown of Bremen, having left behind his young and quite justifiably worried wife. So Hutter (the agent) leaves his wife with friends, travels the long and arduous journey to “the land of spectres”. This is what it’s about really isn’t it. The story is great and this does rattle on bloody fast, but it’s Max Schreck’s depiction of Count Orlok ‘Nosferatu’ that’s why this still kicks ass 100 years on. The locals are terrified of him, try to warn Hutter (Gustav Von Wangenheim), but he’s having none of it. Hahaha he laughs on screen, all actions emphasised for the lack of sound. Even in Act 1 as we’re waiting to reach Orlok’s castle, the cut is lovely. You can tell that great care and attention has been taken to ensure the story flows and it does with a remarkable silkiness. Sometimes films of this era can seem a little disjointed, but this is a masterclass. There’s some gorgeous cinematography that packs a punch even in black and white, probably more so in fact. Although it’d be lovely to see what they’d have done had the Academy ratio been an option. Filmed in Slovakia and Germany, it looks authentically rural and again, creepy. Hunters eyes are on stalks from his first encounters with the Count, as great as Schreck is, Wangenheim really does carry his share of the load. Orlok sees a photo of Hutters wife, declares “Your wife has a lovely neck” and signs the papers to buy the house close to his. Hutter starts to get a little concerned, does he really want this dude as his neighbour. Even from afar he seems to have a hold over Hutter’s wife, who senses her husband’s danger. It’s fantastic, as Orloks stalks menacingly through scenes, doors obeying his movements. It’s a scary as anything you’ll see in modern cinema, with nothing but a bit of make up, a lot of tension and some wonderful score that signposts every move. Hutter discovers his hosts secret, realises he’s in trouble, he’s not laughing now, Ellen is in danger, as Orlok boards a ship with his coffins full of earth and rats. It’s gripping stuff, much better than that offering from the 90s with the dodgy accents, even if Gary Oldman looked amazing, he’s no where near as iconic as Schreck. Orlok moves in to his new abode, which looks like a disused warehouse in Manchester awaiting gentrification. The locals panic at the finding of his seemingly abandoned ship, fearing the Plague. With nothing else for it, Ellen offers herself to save the town, missing none of the romance in this fantasy horror. It’s magnificent and certainly one of the best pieces of early cinema I’ve seen.