The past few years have seen a rise in the popularity of vampire films. From countless Dracula remakes to the Twilight series, culture has a thirst for these bloodsuckers. Yet vampire movies are nothing new and have been around since the early days of film. Given the advances in technology, how would a classic vampire film be received by modern audiences? Despite its age, “Nosferatu” still offers horror fans something to admire.
“Nosferatu” is a 1922 silent German horror film directed by F.W. Murnau. The film is loosely based on Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula,” but the rights to the novel were never officially obtained. Because of this, certain details were changed, including the names of the characters. Gustav von Wangenheim plays the hero, Thomas Hutter, and Max Schreck portrays the sinister Count Orlok.
Set in the fictional German town of Wisborg, Hutter is charged with selling a house to the wealthy count. He journeys to Orlok’s castle in Transylvania to strike a deal, only to discover something far more menacing than he could have imagined. After an alarming encounter within the castle, Orlok sets off to wreak havoc on Wisborg.
Due to the nature of silent films, the actors’ expressions are necessarily more exaggerated. This could turn many modern viewers off, seeming unrealistic or campy. However, von Wangenheim’s expressions, though elevated, still convey the character’s feelings effectively without seeming too ridiculous.
The 1922 score by Hans Erdmann swells and wanes in all the right places, always keeping a slightly ominous tone, even throughout cheerful scenes. The incorporation of shadows into the film is brilliant. Used as a way to literally foreshadow Orlak’s arrival, his lanky silhouette seems to yearn for not only the victim, but the viewer as well. Schreck’s Orlok is most sinister during still shots, when the viewer can drink in his pale skin, large teeth, and wide-eyed glower. The makeup for this character is impressive for the time, still inspiring fear today.
One distracting feature of the film is the abundance of fish lens shots, or shots that look as if the viewer is looking through a telescope. This may be typical of the time but could grate some audience members.
Overall, “Nosferatu” may not be scary by today’s standards, but it is an excellent study of classic horror elements that any fan of the genre can appreciate. A version of “Nosferatu” is part of the public domain and may be viewed on YouTube. It is also available through Netflix and Amazon streaming.