October 21, 2010

Nosferatu (1922) by F.W.Murnau

Director: F.W.Murnau
Cast: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach
Writers: Henrik Galeen (writer) and Bram Stoker (Novel- “Dracula” - Uncredited)
Art Direcotion: Albin Grau
Production: German, 1922
Runtime: 94 minutes (original version)

After some days off, I decided to regroup and start writing some reviews again. For the next reviews, I will take a look at my favorite vampire movies. I will start with Nosferatu, directed by F.W.Murnau in 1922. This is the first movie based on the Bram Stoker´s Dracula novel. However, the studio couldn´t obtain the rights to the novel so many of the character names and the setting were changed. The movie starts Max Schreck one of my favorite vampire act, as the vampire Count Orlock. Nosferatu was ranked 21st in Empire magazine´s “The best films of the world cinema” in 2010. As the first vampire film, this set present to the future upcoming films.

The movie starts in Wisborg (a German fictitious city) were Thomas Hunter is sent to Transylvania to visit a new client named Orlock. Thomas entrusts his wife Ellen, to his good friend Hording and his sister, Ruth, as he leaves Wisborg. Before reaching his destination, he decides to stop at an inn for a quick meal. When the locals discover his destination, they became frightened and warned him not to travel during the night, because there was a werewolf on the prowl. Hunter decides to get some rest at the inn, in his room he discovers a book called “The book of the Vampires”.

The next morning he restart his travel to Orlock mansion, as the night falls the coach driver refused to take him any further so Hunter decides to go on his own. After some minutes, a very strange coach appears and the coachman invites him to climb aboard. After midnight he arrives at the castle, he is welcome by a very thin and disturbing person, Orlock himself, he excuses the lack of servants, as they all were asleep.  As Thomas was having a late meal, Orlock reads some papers his guest brought. Thomas accidentally cuts his thumb and when Orlock tries to suck the blood out of the wound Thomas pulls it away and frightened starts to walk away from the count. Intimidated by Orlock demands, they both sit down by the firehouse to pass the night but Hunter quickly falls asleep.

As Hunter wakes up, he discover two puncture wounds on his neck thinking that they were made by mosquitoes he doesn’t treat them correctly. He also finds the castle empty and Orlock is nowhere to be found. That same night Orlock signs some property documents of a house he bought on Wisborg, just across from Hunter´s house. Orlock sees a portrait of Hunter´s wife and says he admires her neck. Later that night upon reading the book Hunter found at the inn (“The book of the vampires”) he starts to suspect that Orlock could be Nosferatu. As the midnight approaches he tries to block his door but there is no way to bar the door, suddenly the door opens and Orlock enters, at the same time Ellen wakes up and screams for his husband. Somehow, Orlock perceives her scream and leaves Hunter untouched.

The next day decided to fin the truth, Hunter search the whole castle and finds Orlock resting in a crypt, horrified he rushes back to his room. From the window, he sees Orlock leaving the castle in a coffin. Hunter tries to climb down from his window but he falls and is knocked unconscious. After some days in a hospital, Hunter recovers and rushes back home. Meanwhile the coffins are been transported by a schooner. One by one the crew starts getting sick and eventually died. Soon only two persons are left on the boat. The first mate believing that they are carrying something dangerous decides to destroy the coffins, somehow Orlock realize and awakens, the sailor upon seen him enters in panic and jump off the boat. The captain decides to tie himself to the rudder but Orlock attacked him. Finally, the boat arrives in Wisborg, Orlock leaves unseen as the ship was inspected, he then moves into the house he purchased. The doctor determined that they are dealing with the plague that had strike the coast of the block sea days ago.
Hunter returns home and discover Ellen is okay. She reads the “book of the vampires” and she learns how to kill a vampire (a woman pure in heart must willingly give her blood to him, so that he losses track of time until the sun rises and destroys him.) That night Ellen opens her window and Orlock, how was starring from his windows, enters in the room and attacks her. As he is drinking her blood, he becomes so engrossed that he forgets about the time. When the sun starts to appear Orlock tries to escape but he is stuck by the sunlight and he dies.  Ellen who was about to die is resurrected by his husband. The movie closes with an image of Orlock´s ruined castle in the Carpathian Mountains.

Now let´s talk a little bit about the movie. The idea to make Nosferatu was thought by Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau, founders of Prana Film Company. They gave the task to write the screenplay to Henrick Galeen, an experienced specialist in dark romanticism. The problem was that the company didn’t have the rights to produce a film base on Stocker´s novel so they decided to change the name of the characters and rewrite a little bit the plot. Some of the deviation from the novel is that when Orlock attack his victims don’t become vampires, they die. Another important difference with the novel is that this vampire needs to sleep during the day as the sunlight could kill him. Despite all the changes Nosferatu is a masterpiece, we have to remember that movies didn’t have sound, the projections where often company by live a orchestra. Also all the dialogues where shown in a text format after the characters talked. In Nosferatu, the music really fills the lack of sound embracing the spectator with an intense atmosphere. As for the shooting of the film, the original idea was to shot the night scenes during the day and to view them in black and white, but it was too obvious of this effect so they decided to tint those scenes in blue to represent the night.

As for the actor who portrait Nosferatu, Max Schreck is my second favorite vampire actor. Just the image of him standing next to Hunter gives me the creeps. I have to agree with the director F.W.Murnau when he said that Max was “strikingly ugly” and that he really didn’t needed that much makeup. I´m still convinced that Schreck was a real vampire.

Shortly after the movie was presented, Florence Stoker, the widow of Bram Stoker sued Prana Film for copyright infringement because Nosferatu was very similar to Dracula. After she won, the court ordered that all existing prints of Nosferatu were destroyed. Hopefully many copies of the films were already in other countries. Over the years, many copies were made and the film survived. The original copy is said to be owned by the German Max Schreck collector Jens Geutebrück. Because Nosferatu was an illegal version of Dracula, the movie divided the waters for the next generation of vampire movies. The “Nosferatu-type” which is a living corpse with repulsive characteristics (elongated fingernails, associated with rats and diseases). The other type of vampire is the “Dracula-type” embody by the great Béla Lugosi, which is a charming aristocrat that use seduction to get his victims, he also turn them into vampires after they are bitten. Nosferatu inspirited many movies but one you don’t have to miss is “The Shadow of the Vampire”, it tells the secret story of making of Nosferatu, here the actors Max Schreck (played by Williem Dafoe) is a genuine vampire and the director F.W.Murnau (John Malkovich) decides to hire him for the only purpose of realism. During the movie there is a continue fight between Schreck and Murnau as the vampire keeps attacking the crewmembers.

On the next review I will talk about one of the most well know vampire movies, Dracula with the great Béla Lugosi, directed by Tod Browning in 1931. Ok people that´s all for today I see you on the next post, have a good week.

By Sebastián Nadilo

Trailer: Nosferatu (1922)

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