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Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror [RSC Film Club 35]


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It's spooky season and that can only mean one thing here at the film club, time for horror.  Just like last year we are having a double bill with a classic and a modern horror film.  For our classic selection we have F.W Murnau's legendary German expressionist vampire film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.

F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (Restored Version) - Kino Lorber Theatrical

Starring Max Schreck as Count Orlok the film is an unauthorised retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula, the names all changed to avoid lawsuits, but other than that it is a pretty faithful version of the story.  It was so faithful that the estate of Bram Stoker sued the production company and won, putting the company out of business and having a judge rule that all copies of the film be burned.  Luckily for us one print survived and made its way around the world, becoming one of the first "cult films".

There is also an interesting mythology behind the film, the most famous myth being that Schreck was not an actor but an actual vampire, so shocking his appearance and creepy his performance.  This idea is brilliantly explored in the film Shadow of the Vampire (2000) which stars John Malkovich as Murnau and Willem Dafoe as Orlok.

This is also, by a long shot, the oldest film we've covered here, and our first silent film.  I haven't seen this since my college film studies classes and can't wait to revisit one of the most iconic horror films of all time, and hear what you guys think.  

The whole film is available to watch on YouTube.  There is a blu-ray remaster on there, but I prefer this original version with the differently coloured tints.

count orlok vampire GIF

your wife has a lovely neck

Edited by LimeGreenLegend
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  • 3 weeks later...

Nosferatu, even the name sounds evil.  An incantation to summon out of the black unspeakable horrors.  When this was released almost a century ago there must have been some people who thought that Murnau was some master of the occult when they saw Max Schreck's Count Orlok stalk onto the screen.  A loose adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula the film stars, alongside Schreck's Dracula replacement, Gustav von Wangenheim as Thomas Hutter (Jonathan Harker), and Greta Schroder as Ellen (Mina Harker), Hutter's wife and the object of Orlok's desires.  Sent to Transylvania to meet with Count Orlok to broker a real estate deal, Hutter finds not a well dressed, well spoken member of the undead nobility like the Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee interpretations of the role, but a grotesque and twisted mockery of a person, more creature than man.  After Orlok notices a picture of Ellen he becomes obsessively enraptured with her to his ultimate detriment.  

vampire GIF by hoppip

Being a silent film a lot of care and attention were taken with the visuals here, both in set and production design but in framing and the incredible use of lighting and shadow.  I love how there's a lot of depth to many scenes.  A lot of early films were staged like plays with most of the action taking place across a single plane, but here the staging has the sets trail off into the distance, whether its the darkened hallways of Orlok's castle or the cobbled streets of the town.  This allows characters and extras to move from the background to the foreground creating some really dynamic scenes.  There's also a lot of low angle shots and canted angles which makes the gothic architecture tower over both Hutter and us in an almost threatening way.  It wouldn't be a German expressionist film without amazing use of shadows and this film has it in bucket-loads.  Orlok's shadow seems to move around his castle separate from its master like a malevolent Peter Pan, lengthening and growing in size as he nears his victim.  My favourite example of this in the film is when the shadow of his hand slowly moves up Ellen's body until it's over her heart at which point it grasps violently.  I was holding my breath for that entire scene.

silent film vampire GIF by FilmStruck

Being a silent film the performances here are very different to modern acting.  It's very theatrical and expressive, particularly Wangenheim as Hutter.  Eddie Izzard does a perfect job playing him in Shadow of the Vampire and his performance was all I could think about when watching this.  Schroder as Ellen has a great mesmerised face and really sells that she is under the spell of Nosferatu.  The main event here though is Schreck as Nosferatu.  Even though this isn't a scary film by modern standards it's still always chilling when he's on screen.  From the brilliant make-up which is more rat than bat with those teeth he also has an insect like quality in the way he holds himself and how he uses his arms and hands.  He also manages to be be both upright and hunched over at the same time.  There's a reason that this look is still used and referenced to this day, and the incredibly iconic imagery in this film has been copied so much that you'll recognise them as soon as you see them; the shadows creeping along the wall, Nosferatu rising up from his coffin straight as a plank, stalking the deck of a ship sharply contrasted against the overcast sky.  

This film also added to the general vampire mythology as it was the first time that a vampire was shown to be fatally weak to sunlight.  I think this sets it apart from other Dracula adaptations as he is not killed by Van Helsing with a stake through the heart, but by the light of the rising sun after he has been feeding on his obsession all night.  He almost becomes a classic romantic hero in that moment.  I think that this is a fantastic film, and a good starting place if you've never seen a silent film before as it's a familiar story with an iconic performance that has permeated through film history for nearly a hundred years now.  Is it a scary film, no.  But I'll argue that Schreck's performance as Nosferatu is still terrifying.  You could put him in a modern horror movie and he'd still be incredible.  This is the granddaddy of vampire films and it totally deserves its place in film history.  

night school GIF

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