Welcome to week two of the seventh annual Ultimate Decades Blogathon, where this year is all about movies released in years that end in “2.” Starting off this week is Ultimate Decades regular Tom from Plain, Simple Tom Reviews. Tom has been blogging for quite a while now, and as such reviews all kinds of movies for all kinds of tastes. Be sure to check out his blog if your unfamiliar with it already (and check it out anyway if you are!). Like last year, Tom is reviewing a film turning 100-years-old in 2022. Let’s check it out!
Here we are again at another of Drew and Kim’s “Ultimate Decades” blogathons and as this one is all about release years that end in a “2”, I knew that there was only one film that I wanted to talk about (seriously, I didn’t think at all about any other films that I could’ve chosen) and as I chose 1921’s The Kid for my blogathon entry last year, I’ve again decided to represent a film that turns 100 years old this year and will be talking now about F.W. Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu.
A very popular and memorable silent film of the German expressionist era, Nosferatu is a film that’s loosely based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (an adaptation that the Stoker family was NOT happy with, leading them to attempt to destroy all copies of the feature) and sees young property agent Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), a happy and carefree man who is married to Ellen (Greta Schröder), sent to a far away residence in Transylvania by his sinister boss, Knock (Alexander Granach), to negotiate a property deal for the mysterious Count Orlok (Max Schreck), arranging for him to purchase an abandoned property that just happens to he located opposite Hutter’s own house. While in the company of the Count, Hutter soon notices strange bite marks on his neck, eventually coming to the conclusion that Orlok is, in fact, inhuman and that he has his sights set on Hutter’s wife and when he witness the vampire abandoning the castle, Hutter soon sets off in pursuit. But the monstrous Count Orlok does eventually arrive in Hutter’s small town, bringing a plague to the citizens and having killed all the men who were working on the ship that brought him over, and the young Ellen soon finds herself at the mercy of the master vampire . . .
Murnau’s 1922 film really is a good adaptation of the classic story that we’ve subsequently seen play out in many different films and TV shows – with Tod Browning’s 1931 version with Bela Lugosi, Terence Fisher’s Hammer horror with Christopher Lee, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 one with Gary Oldman, the latest BBC series starring Claes Bang, and the “Nosferatu tale” was remade by Werner Herzog in 1979 and will even be told once again sometime in the future by emerging horror maestro Robert Eggers – but the German director’s version of the classic tale is still a highly regarded one today and it contains much iconic imagery and a memorable movie monster; it tells a relatively simple story (in a professional way) and the cinematic techniques, production design, cinematography and character design really bring the tale to the big screen in a timeless manner.
The image of Max Schreck’s Count Orlok is surely a recognisable one for classic film fans: a far cry from Lugosi and Lee’s more elegant appearances and definitely not a “sexy vampire” that we occasionally see in modern movies, Schreck’s grotesque vampire is all furry and pointed ears, bushy eyebrows, hooked nose, rat-like incisors, mad eyes, hunched shoulders, and long, talon-like fingers – quite appropriate for a bringer of a plague, a rat, or a “deathbird”, as he’s sometimes referred to in this movie. The images of him standing on the deck of the ship, in doorways, and standing over his victim’s bed have become staples of the horror genre (heck, I can even find him on a bookmark that is currently being used in a book that I’m reading) and furthermore, we can also observe scenes and tropes that have been referenced and copied in other, similar films; we have the scene involving a naive traveller who is warned of the upcoming evil by a tavern of concerned locals, we see Orlok rising cross-armed from his coffin, as we now know vampires to do, and we even have an angry, desperate mob who rally against the destructive and evil force.
And the film succeeds because it is very well put together and shows off some innovative (for the time) cinematic techniques; we often see Orlok appearing as a spectral figure, disappearing through doorways and eventually fading away at the very end, and Murnau also makes use of what is essentially stop-motion in scenes involving the journey of a “phantom carriage” and when he “packs himself up” and leaves the castle – these parts, these “jerky motions”, give the film an unreal quality and we can infer that Orlok is here employing some kind of magic or maybe even super speed. Nosferatu also makes great use of shadows – which is something to be expected from a great piece of German expressionist cinema – and the memorable images of Orlok’s shadow slowly creeping up the stairs or hovering, claws out, over his victim’s bed have stood the test of time and remain very memorable movie images. And furthermore, this film has a good accompanying score that helps escalate the feelings of dread and horror.
But despite Nosferatu being an undeniable silent classic – an important film in cinema history whose images are still recognisable today – I actually have to admit that the film has some flaws that would prevent me from “awarding it” a full five star rating and chief among these is that, in a similar manner to Bride of Frankenstein, I suppose, it’s actually disappointing that the titular vampire is only on screen for a combined total of about nine minutes and that a lot of the film (far more than I remember) is dedicated to Hutter and Ellen and even a scientist who, at one point, is seen demonstrating how a Venus flytrap is “a lot like a vampire”. Now, the few scenes involving Orlok, as well as the accompanying “spooky stuff”, is obviously really memorable but in those scenes wherein we see Hutter and Ellen’s family life, or else some of the other things that are happening with the town, interest really dips and the non-Orlok scenes seem to “stray too far” and aren’t as absorbing as the more horror filled parts of the feature. It’s also a shame how the classic villain is given very little fanfare, no pomp and circumstance, in his entrance and simply just . . . appears to us, the audience, and his entrance doesn’t fill us with the requisite tension or dread that we would expect. If I’m being perfectly honest, in rewatching this film, I initially assumed him to merely be one of the servants!
So that’s what I have to say about this 100 year old horror classic; the imagery contained within has surely stood the test of time – with Max Schreck’s Count Orlok proving to be an iconic movie monster – and although certain parts show their age and despite the story suffering when the Count isn’t around, Nosferatu remains an important and memorable film that I hope will still be talked about in another hundred years! Thanks to Drew and Kim for hosting this blogathon, thanks to all who read this, and now you can go and read all of the other entries!