Sunday, September 18, 2016
The first Dracula -- the vampire Nosferatu
Nosferatu is the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula novel. Stoker’s widow Florence was unhappy with the similarity of the film to the novel, so prints of the film were ordered to be destroyed. Fortunately, the film remains in print today, and has been digitally remastered by various DVD distributors with filtered colored scenes and music scores to select from. Many worn public domain prints with missing intertitles are also in circulation.
Real estate agent Thomas Hutter is assigned to travel to the Carpathian Mountains to sell a house to Count Orlok, a strange pale recluse with fangs and elongated fingers. At Orlok’s castle, Hutter is bitten on the neck by the count and held captive in the castle. Hutter escapes, but discovers that Orlok has traveled to Wisborg, Germany with coffins filled with his naïve soil and rats to spread the plaque.
Director F. W. Murnau creates an eerie, dreamlike world where much is left to the imagination of the viewer. Blood is often mentioned, but never shown on screen. A carriage ride sequence shows the film negative in reverse as fog travels through the forest and around the carriage. Other scenes show Orlok’s shadow cast on walls to suggest imposing doom as the count approaches his victims. The count rises from his coffin on board a ship like an erect, phallic symbol.
After Universal Studios made the 1931 version of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, the count was forever changed as a handsome, sophisticated and aristocratic man. Max Schreck’s characterization of the count, however, portrays him as a rat like creature with claws that repels anyone who encounters him. In fact, Schreck’s name means “horror” in German. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu has never been matched, and remains the best of all vampire films in the history of cinema. German director Werner Herzog remade the film in 1979, with Klaus Kinski in the role of the count. Happy viewing!
Steve D. Stones