Maybe not a horror film as you now know of, but this black and white masterpiece from the early 20’s paved the way for moody, dread filled films and of course lit the path for vampire movies. It’s such a good atmospheric film and frame after frame is filled with drawn out lengths and obscure angles to heighten the backdrop Germany was going through at the time. A post World War 1 film it very much is, put that together with a classic vampire story and a frankly chilling Dracula-esque lead then you’re in business.
‘Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror’ is based off of Bram Stoker’s Dracula tale but names and extras are changed as the studio couldn’t grab the rights. So instead of Harker we have salesman Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), who gets sent to Transylvania to see a new client named Count Orlok (Max Schreck), alarm bills aren’t ringing even at his name but once Hutter reads up on vampire legend he begins to suspect his host isn’t just a man but a bloodsucker. Hutter rushes back home trying to stop Orlok who is after his wife Ellen (Greta Schroder), but is he too late to save her?
The oppressive like imagery deals the film a bleak and horrifying look and that works for this dread filled scenario. The castle of Orlok is enough to see what a creepy location Hutter has landed himself in. There is plenty of stretched lines and abnormally sized objects to fit in with the German Expressionism of the time. It’s extremely arty as this style should be and it’s great looking into the most often statically shot scenes as you can see what is being played around with, such as the really tall chairs in Orlok’s dining room. Shadows and lighting are beautiful and surely the moment Orlok climbs the stairs to get to Ellen is a cinematic gem to remembered for ever, his hands and body casting shadows on the wall stirs up such tense feelings and makes him feel like a spirit too. ‘Nosferatu’ is splendidly filled with so many great visuals that can be seen with different meanings, as Hutter looks out at the building he’s sent to sell, the multiple windows really feel like a jail and the bars across his view make it seem like he’s trapped, which he is, he’s trapped into this transaction by Knock.
Yes, this film may not truly be an out and out horror but for the lack of jumps and scares there’s a suitable amount of Gothic glean and haunting atmosphere. It is so influential for the world of film in the style of horror films. A stylish silent film that I love and will probably always love. Every scene we move into is filled with detail, the story is simple but effective and the lack of score in some cases benefits the fear pent up inside you. Though one version I watched had a great musical backing track that worked really well with the majority of each scene, for the life of me I don’t know which version it was.
A powerful performance from Orlok himself really makes you believe this vampire exists and like an unshakable thing, he keeps on coming. However dumb Hutter is you have to feel for him in the wake of sleeping under the roof of a motivated and immovable vampire. Max Schreck uses the Expressionism of the time and becomes Orlok, he has a lean spindly body and that works for this parasitic creature, his hands like spiders and arms stuck to his side create this constant vertical impression making him seem taller and therefore he looms over proceedings. Wangenheim over plays his part but again that was the way silent film had to work, no words meant facial expressions told everything, so his childish grins and stupid stares do more than enough to make him the simple fool to visit a vampire and not expect a thing. Alexander Granach who plays Knock, actually a connection to Orlok embodies this greedy squat rat-bodied creep in his manic gesticulations and as he’s committed to a ward, the cuts between him and the some doctors studies link them as examples of study and pests.
‘Nosferatu’ is a breakthrough in the early stages of film as art and director F.W Murnau honestly does concoct a symphony of delights within this silent feature. Imagery and performance work hand in hand to make this a great film to behold. Brilliant.