‘Halloween Special’ Review: Nosferatu (1922) (The Original Vampire Film…And Best?)

 

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nosferatuIt’s Halloween today, and what better film to watch than one of the original horror films? Yes, the vampire sub-genre has been done to death lately. Think of ‘Twilight’, ‘True Blood’, ‘The Vampire Diaries’, ‘Being Human’, etc. But ‘Nosferatu’ came a very long time before those modern examples. Because everybody loves vampires! The vampire emerges every so often in popular culture, preying on adolescent sexual nature, and the fear and fascination of giving up the body to a stranger. But, let’s be honest here, nothing in the recent vampire boom can hold a candle to ‘Nosferatu’!It’s an adaption of another ‘original and best’: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (actually a cracking book! Go out and read it…if you can find a library in your area). It’s a fairly loose adaption, however, adding and changing parts of the novel. And a bit of trivia for you here: Nosferatu created the concept that vampires can be destroyed by sunlight! Yes, you won’t find that anywhere in the novel. What will put many people off is the film itself: it’s silent! But please, persevere; what you’ll watch has more creativity and imagination than a billion Twilights!

Why do you need dialogue when brilliant imagery and story-telling tunes convey the story better than trite words? The orchestra guides the viewer through the film, starting off with quite simple melodies and transforming into a complex ‘symphony of terror’ by the end.  The film starts off with simplicity: a beautiful garden, a young couple desperately in love. There are subtle, haunting echoes when Jonathan (the male of the young couple) is told to visit Transylvania…where the Count resides. We are told, not by dialogue, but by music, that this is where everything will change. The young couple, pure and innocent, will be tested. Jonathan’s last words to his love, Nina, are displayed on the screen: “Don’t worry Nina, nothing will happen to me!”

But, of course, going into the land of that vampire will be the end of the young couple. Jonathan stops off in an inn near Transylvania, and when he tells the crowd his destination, their faces turn to horror, and the music also tells us of the apprehension: piano organs signal a turn for the worse. The Transylvanian locals have even greater fear of The Count: “Here begins the land of the phantoms.” They will not take Jonathan any further. Nosferatu is no handsome aristocrat trying to seduce young ladies; he is a true monster, elongated fingers, misshapen head, pointed ears. Max Schrek who plays Nosferatu gives an incredible performance, not needing sound to convey terror and danger. His look of glee when Jonathan cuts himself is brilliant: ‘Blood! Your precious blood!’ the screen reads. There’s even room for comedy; Jonathan shows Nosferatu a picture of his wife, and the screen reads Nosferatu’s words: “Is this your wife? What a lovely neck!”

That shadow terrified me for weeks!
That shadow terrified me for weeks!

Jonathan manages to escapes Nosferatu’s castle after having his blood sucked a couple of times. However, Nosferatu stows away (with coffin in tow) on a ship, with the same destination as Jonathan. As in all good horror films, the main character isn’t the monster, but the girl; and the girl always manages to stop the monster/killer. Nina has premonitions of Jonathan’s return, but when she says “He’s coming…must go and meet him” does she mean Nosferatu or Jonathan? Nosferatu wreaks havoc in the town, and the townsfolk blame the plague (and there’s a beautifully absurd shot of Nosferatu carrying his own coffin!). Nina knows better, however, and when she reads in ‘The Book of Vampires’ that only a women pure in heart can stop vampires, she knows what she must do. This last segment of Nosferatu is simply stunning, but I’ll leave it up to you to watch it.

The last image is splendid: the ruins of Nosferatu’s castle. If only modern vampire films had a tenth of the imagination that was poured into this film! The sexual nature of vampires is far too obvious in modern culture; whereas the subtle nature of seduction and purity have a far greater impact here. Nosferatu itself is the most terrifying Dracula ever brought to screen. His long fingers casting shadows will haunt your dreams for a long time. There are no jump scares, just a feeling of dread and terror as the story reaches its inevitable conclusion. Give ‘Nosferatu’ a chance, if you haven’t seen it before.

VERDICT: 9/10. A silent horror classic. ‘Nosferatu’ will live in your nightmares long after watching it. Unnerving, creepy, terrifying…

Leave your thoughts/comments about ‘Nosferatu’ below!

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