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To watch F.W. Murnau's ``Nosferatu'' (1922) is to see the vampire movie before it had really seen itself. Here is the story of Dracula before it was buried alive in cliches, jokes, TV skits, cartoons and more than 30 other films. The film is in awe of its material. It seems to really believe in vampires.
Max Schreck, who plays the vampire, avoids most of the theatrical touches that would distract from all the later performances, from Bela Lugosi to Christopher Lee to Frank Langella to Gary Oldman. The vampire should come across not like a flamboyant actor but like a man suffering from a dread curse. Schreck plays the count more like an animal than a human being; the art direction by Murnau's collaborator, Albin Grau, gives him bat ears, clawlike nails and fangs that are in the middle of his mouth like a rodent's, instead of on the sides like on a Halloween mask.
Murnau's silent film was based on the Bram Stoker novel, but the title and character names were changed because Stoker's widow charged, not unreasonably, that her husband's estate was being ripped off. Ironically, in the long run Murnau was the making of Stoker, because ``Nosferatu'' inspired dozens of other Dracula films, none of them as artistic or unforgettable, although Werner Herzog's 1979 version with Klaus Kinski comes closest.
``Nosferatu'' is a better title, anyway, than ``Dracula.'' Say ``Dracula'' and you smile. Say ``Nosferatu'' and you've eaten a lemon. Murnau's story begins in Bremen, Germany. Knock (Alexander Granach), a simian little real estate agent, assigns his employee Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) to visit the remote castle of Count Orlok, who wishes to buy a house in town--"a deserted one." A clue to the story can be found in Orlok's letter, which we see over Knock's shoulder. It is written in occult symbols; since Knock can read it, we should not be surprised later when he calls Orlok ``Master.'' During Hutter's trip to Orlok's lair in the Carpathian Mountains, Murnau's images foretell doom. In an inn, all of the customers fall silent when Hutter mentions Orlok's name. Outside, horses bolt and run, and a hyena snarls before slinking away. At Hutter's bedside, he finds a book that explains vampire lore: They must sleep, he learns, in earth from the graveyards of the Black Death.
Hutter's hired coach refuses to take him onto Orlok's estate. The count sends his own coach, which travels in fast-motion, as does his servant, who scurries like a rat. Hutter is still laughing at warnings of vampirism, but his laugh fades at dinner, when he cuts himself with a bread knife and the count seems unhealthily interested in ``Blood--your beautiful blood!'' --CantBeDone.org
NOSFERATU Starring Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim and Greta Schroeder VARIETY December 25, 1929
Skillfully mounted and directed, this symbolical legendary cinema story of reanimated ghosts in a period set about a century or so ago when vampirism was pretty well entrenched in the world's beliefs, is a depressive piece of art made even more incompatible for bourgeois theatre fare because of misspotted and poor titling. Latter lends the film more than one confusing moment and therefore it is a risky exhibit for the sure seaters, too although the artistic quality of settings and direction command consideration, this and Murnau's work leaving the question open whether this film was made long ago or lately.
Story is claimed to have been inspired by "Dracula." Whether the play or the book not told. Bram Stoker authored the novel more than 20 years ago and the play which was based on it, written by Hamilton Dean and John Balderson, produced on Broadway by Horace Liveright in October, 1927.
Like the play the picture is a shivery melo spilling ghostlike impossibilities from beginning to end. Action details the forages of a nobleman who is dead yet alive, making night time raids on human beings and compelling them to become subservient to him by sucking the blood from their necks, often plaguing them to death. His especial delight is a pretty woman.
Murnau proved his directorial artistry in "Sunrise" for Fox about three years ago, but in this picture he's a master artisan demonstrating not only a knowledge of the subtler side of directing but in photography.
One shot of the sun cracking at dawn is an eye filler. Among others of extremely imaginative beauty is one which takes in a schooner sailing in a rippling stream photographed in such a manner that it has the illusion of color and an enigmatic weirdness that's more perplexing than the ghost action of the players.
His funeral scene in the deserted town street where the bodies of the plague victims are carried in coffins held aloft by straggling pallbearers is unusual to say the least. Empty shattering buildings photographed to suggest the desperate desolation brought on by the vampire is extremely effective symbolism.
Max Schreck as the vampire is an able pantomimist and works clocklike, his makeup suggesting everything that's goose pimply. He did his worst on every occasion which was good. --SilentsAreGolden.comSee all Editorial Reviews
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Max Schreck is absolutely terrifying in his character make-up.
but what really got me about this film is the supporting cast, particularly Greta Schroder.
such a beautiful actress! <3,
but in all honesty, such a great film long forgotten by today's generation.
well worth the money if you love old movies.
but if you're expecting to actually hear the dialogue instead of having to read it on the screen, this might not be for you.
YES, THIS IS A SILENT FILM BACK FROM THE GOLDEN AGE OF CINEMA.
a true original and a true classic in every meaning of the word.
For novices to silent films I'd like to say that this film has much more depths that one might think, and you have to read the intertitles carefully to get the background or in-depth meanings that are intended. I got much more out of the film after the second and third viewing and paying attention to both the intertitles and other details, such as how Ellen was under Nosferatu's spell from a distance, and sensed when her husband was in mortal danger in Nosferatu's castle. There is also the interesting correlation between Nosferatu's presence and the Plague, and until science proved otherwise, people back then did believe that illnesses, especially a plague, were caused by evil, sinister beings.
For anyone who likes a film they can get their teeth into (pardon the pun) even if not a vampire/horror fan, this is a good one! And as far as silent films go, definitely also in the "classics" department and a must-have in your collection.
Yesterday I got NOSFERATU (Ultimate Edition) and the restoration impressed me quite as much as the restoration done on Lang's METROPOLIS a few years ago. The picture quality is astonishing, and the restoration of proper film speed with the vivid pallor of the images has proved to me I was wrong about much of the acting. The subtleties in performance were the first things to be lost in inferior prints projected at incorrect speed. Hutter, Ellen and even over-the-top Knock turn in more finely-tuned melodramatic performances than I had believed was the case. The famous shot of Orlok standing in the window of his deserted house, gazing towards Ellen's bedroom, now reveals a ghoulish face in the thrall of frustrated erotic longing as well as bloodthirsty intent. The other amazing thing about this restoration is the quality of the "nature" shots: frightened horses bolting from a hyena; the phantom play of light against the spray of the waves as Ellen sits on the beach, the astonishing clarity of the establishing shot of Wisborg, even the close-up of the Venus Fly-Trap seizing a fly in its interlocking leaves, all are now seen in a way not possible for anyone to see since the film's release in the 1920s--- before the suit brought by Bram Stoker's widow caused much of the original film material to be destroyed. The music, adapted from the original score, works quite effectively and is frightening at all the propeer moments. If you love the Dracula legend, NOSFERATU is the best, and these DVDs are by far the best version of NOSFERATU. If you admire F.W. Murnau's work, this set is a must-have. Two mosquito bites up for one of the best stocking stuffers of this holiday season!