Back to our regularly scheduled October slate of horror movies, and this week we have Nosferatu, a German silent film from 1922. It’s a movie I’ve seen three or four times over the years. Nosferatu is closely based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel, though the names and some details have been changed. Nonetheless, it adheres so closely to the original story that Stoker’s estate sued the movie studio, Prana, which went into bankruptcy as a result and never made another film.
Hutter, a young worker in a real estate office owned by Herr Knock in the north German town of Wisborg, is sent to Romania to make the sale of a property to an interested customer, Count Orlok. His wife, Ellen, is horrified for him to go to the “land of ghosts and thiefs,” but Hutter is eager to start on his exciting trip. After a harrowing journey and a stop at an inn where the locals warn him not to continue on, Hutter reaches Orlok’s castle.
Hutter spends an evening with the strange old man, who is particularly interested in a picture of Ellen. He wakes up in the morning with two bite marks on his neck. His host is nowhere to be found and Hutter finds he’s locked in the castle and unable to leave. Back in Wisborg, Herr Knock has gone insane and is confined to the local lunatic asylum, where he eats flies and mutters about the “master coming soon.” Ellen, for her part, has strange sleepwalking episodes, when she dreams about a demonic creature.
After signing the real estate contract for his new house in Wisborg (helpfully situated right across from Hutter’s own house), Orlok has six coffins filled with soil from his estate shipped on a barge down the river outside his castle. Unbeknownst to the captain, Orlok himself is in one of the coffins. As soon as Orlok leaves the castle, Hutter is able to escape, and he makes his way as quickly as he can back to Wisborg, slowed down by the illness and lethargy that have ailed him since his arrival. Orlok’s coffins are transferred to a ship at the Romanian port of Varna, and when the ship arrives at Wisborg, its crew is all dead.
In Wisborg, residents start dying in masses, with the deaths blamed on the plague, thought to have been brought to the city by the death ship. Of course, Hutter and Ellen know it’s Orlok, feeding at night, but have no way to stop him. Herr Knock manages to escape from the asylum after murdering a guard. Looking for a scapegoat, some townspeople notice that Knock is near one of the houses where someone has died, and a mob chases him through the city and the countryside.
Ellen reads in a book from Romania that has ended up in Hutter’s luggage that a beautiful, pure-hearted woman can distract a Nosferatu (vampire) by offering him her own blood long enough for the dawn’s rays to strike the evil creature. Knowing it’s the only way to save the city, she does this, and Orlok turns to dust as the sun rises. Hutter comes home just in time to discover what Ellen has done and embrace her before she dies.
Having watched Dracula a couple weeks ago, it’s natural to compare these two movies. Indeed, Dracula apparently lifted scenes from Nosferatu that aren’t found in the book, including a scene at Orlok’s castle when Hutter cuts his finger as he’s dining, and Orlok leans over and sucks the blood from the wound, to Hutter’s horror. Personally, I found Nosferatu the superior film. It’s spookier, and the lack of spoken dialogue (there are dialogue cards inserted at appropriate places) gives it a dreamlike feeling.
Story/Plot/Characters— It’s a bit hard for a modern viewer to judge the acting in a silent film. Without words, the actors must employ exaggerated motions and facial expressions to get their point across. Nevertheless, I found the acting very expressive. Greta Schroeder, as Ellen, is far superior to Helen Chandler’s Mina in Dracula. The pacing is brisk and the plot is tight. (3.5 points)
Special Effects–Actually better than Dracula’s–Max Schreck’s make-up job as Count Orlok is so convincing that the film Shadow of the Vampire (which I’ll watch next week) suggest Schreck actually was a vampire, not an actor at all. The way Orlok fades in and out of scenes is quite well done. And no silliness with bats on strings. (1.5 points)
Scariness— Fairly frightening for its era. (1 point)
Atmosphere/Freakiness— Unlike Dracula, Nosferatu doesn’t feel especially artificial. Indeed, though very well-done, Dracula has a certain “soundstaginess,” whereas it’s obvious that much of Nosferatu was filmed on location (Wikipedia says Slovakia stood in for Romania). I already mentioned the dreamlike feeling you get watching this movie. In that regard, it actually reminds me a lot of The Babadook, which I watched last year. Full points for atmosphere. (2 points)
Total=8 points (Best Horror Movies Ever)
Hey, we have another one to add to our list of Best Horror Movies ever!