Friday, October 5, 2012

Nosferatu (1922) – A Symphony of Horror

By Steve D. Stones

On the evening of Tuesday October 2nd, 2012, the Weber County Library Main Branch in Ogden screened F.W. Murnau’s 1922 German Expressionistic masterpiece – Nosferatu. The print shown was the 2007 release by Kino International with the Hans Erdmann score and 1922 intertitles faithful to the original film. It was a great treat to see this classic film up on the big screen this evening.

Hutter, a real estate agent, is assigned by Knock to travel into the Carpathian Mountains to sell property to Count Orlok, a hideous rat looking creature with an elongated body and fingers, living on human blood. Hutter’s coach refuses to take him to Orlok’s estate, so he travels on foot. He encounters the Count driving another coach through the woods. It is here that one of the most haunting shots of the film is seen as the coach travels through a fog infested forest while the print is shown in reverse from the negative. Cheap prints in the public domain omit this creepy sequence.

Hutter arrives at Orlok’s estate to make the sale. While there, he writes letters to his young wife Mina, complaining of mosquitoes biting his neck. He soon discovers that Orlok has trapped him in his Carpathian Castle, and plans to travel to Hutter’s hometown of Wisborg, Germany with coffins filled of his native soil. While on route, the rats in the coffin spread the plaque to all the ship’s passengers, bringing the plaque to Wisborg. Orlok leaves the ship and carries coffins through pointed archways to his destination. Funeral processions of coffins being carried into the streets signals that death and the plague have arrived in Wisborg.

Just before sunrise, Orlok confronts Mina in her bedroom as she sleeps. He evaporates in the sun light after Mina is bitten on the neck. Just before the sunlight fills the room, a reflection of Orlok can be seen in the mirror next to Mina’s bed, which is not in keeping with future depictions of vampire beings who cannot cast a reflection in mirrors. Many scenes show Orlok walking around in bright daylight, such as a famous sequence of him walking across the bow of a ship traveling to Wisborg. 

Max Scheck’s portrayal of Count Orlok is grotesque and iconic, a true screen legend that continues to haunt audiences even today. Scheck’s Orlok is more truthful to Bram Stoker’s vampire in the Dracula novel. More contemporary depictions of Dracula show him as a handsome aristocrat that attracts and repels beautiful women. Scheck’s Orlok is meant to be a frightening creature, avoiding any romantic references.

Stoker’s estate was not pleased with the intentional copyright infringement of Nosferatu to the Dracula novel, so all prints of the film were ordered to be destroyed. Lucky for us, Nosferatu is still in circulation for audiences to enjoy today. German film maker Werner Herzog recreated Nosferatu in 1979 starring Klaus Kinski in the role of Count Orlac. See both great classics this Halloween Season. Also see the 2000 film – Shadow of The Vampire, which is a fictionalized account of the filming of Nosferatu. Happy Viewing!! (Above is artist Stones' work, Vampire Crunch)

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