Friday, May 6, 2011

Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu: Symphony of Horrors) (1922)
GERMANY --- horror

Dir: F.W. Murnau

When it comes to the quintessential vampire story, all roads lead to Bram Stoker's 1897 literary masterpiece "Dracula". The success of this Gothic tale spurred interest in other media from stage to eventually film. The first adaptation would actually be a 1921 Hungarian film titled "Drakula Halála" (Dracula's Death), which is now thought to be lost. The true first would be German director, F.W. Murnau's classic silent film "Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens".

The film opens with Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) and his wife Ellen (Greta Schroeder) at home, and soon Hutter meets with his employer Knock (Alexander Grannach), who offers him the opportunity to go to Transylvania for a stay at Count Orlok's castle. Hutter takes the offer, and leaves his wife, departing for the Count's abode. Soon arriving at an inn, the habitue warn him not to travel by night. In this scene, it's important to note the much used cliche of a foreigner entering a bar where upon mention of the evil (depending on the film) stops everything in cricket-induced silence. Murnau should be credited for that much. Anyway, Hutter decides to stay the night and finds a book about vampires (or Nosferatu as they're translated), which has ominous warnings he pays no attention to. In the morning, he rises to continue his trek, but even the coach driver will not take him but so far.

So Hutter takes his belongings and hoofs it alone, until he meets a stranger (played by Max Shreck) with a swift horse buggy who takes him directly to his destination. He finally meets the Count late at night (though in the film it is clearly still daylight), though in some cuts of the film, it is colorized blue tint to give the intentional time of day. During dinner, Hutter accidentally cuts his finger, which of course brings out the thirst in his beady-eyed host. Orlok then tells Hutter they have much to discuss through the night. In the morning, Hutter rises and when looking in the mirror finds two bite marks on his neck. He writes a letter to his wife, describing his strange stay so far. Hutter, however, finds the Nosferatu lying in a coffin filled with dirt, having already sensed the vampyr had somehow visited Ellen back in his hometown of Bremen. Frightened still, Hutter espies a worker board up and remove the coffin and take it out on a carriage. They take the coffin down river and to the docks to the ship called the Demeter. Once there, they open the cargo to find it filled with rats, yet Orlok is on his way to the Hutter's place of residence.

We are next introduced to Professor Bulwer, as he teaches a class on carnivorous plants , comparing a venus flytrap to a vampire. Next we revisit Knock, who's locked in an asylum for being mad, but who is in actualality under the influence of Count Orlok. Ellen has also become distant and unusual in her behavior as well, even upon receiving a good tidings letter from Hutter. The sailors aboard the Demeter become infected with an "unknown" deadly plague; taking them out one by one. One of them inspects the cargo particularly the coffin and discovers the body of Count Orlok. Tempted to see "The Book of Vampires" Hutter forbid her from, Ellen reads something about the willful offering of a woman of purity to the Nosferatu. Many townspeople become victims of the plague. Adhering to the book,  that night Ellen decides to sacrifice herself to Count Orlok, and to rid them of the Nosferatu. Nearing the dawn, she pretends to become sickened, as Hutter rushes out to get Bulwer for help. Meanwhile, Count Orlok is stalking her from a window nearby. His shadow looms over her, and when he finally sinks his teeth into her, the cock crows and Orlok is defeated by the dawn's morning light.

"Nosferatu" became infamous for many reasons. First and foremost, it really is a creepy horror film, silent or not. Max Schreck's (Even his name is intrepreted as Fright or Horror) performance is perfect. This is a very different Count Dracula than what we would see later with the very regal Bela Lugosi and the seductive Christopher Lee. The visual interepretation of Count Orlok in "Nosferatu" distinctly resembles a rodent. By no indication can this be a coincidence. Though some have gleaned an anti-semetic cariacture from this, which was of course rising in Germany at this time, I see it differently. This could be a comparison of the plague of vampirism caused by Count Orlok and how the bubonic plague was caused by rats throughout Europe in the 14th century. This film introduced the world to vampires, going by the book with this nightmarish interpretation. Murnau helped innovate the German Expressionist cinema movement, with high contrast light and shadow. The names in Nosferatu were changed in order to avoid legality issues with the Stoker's estate; namely Stoker's widow Florence. So, Jonathan Harker was changed to Hutter, Dr. Van Helsing to Professor Bulwer, Dracula was renamed Count Orlok, and Renfield was renamed Knock. Murnau's adaptation has become legendary, and has allowed Dracula's presence to sink his teeth in film ever since.