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DIRECTOR: F.W. Murnau RELEASE DATE: March 4, 1922 RATING: N/A
CAST: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, et al.
// review by Jeff

You can't spell Nosferatu without 'tuna'. Does that mean anything?

Wow. This is officially the oldest item I have ever reviewed, even predating my look at Tarzan The Ape Man (1932) by 10 years. Nosferatu definitely looks its age, and most certainly SOUNDS its age as well. It's a silent film, and only various songs to set the mood appear here. As I recall, back in the silent film era, they had to have an organist play in tandem with the movie. But I'm not that old, so I can't prove it. Anyway, instead of hearing people speak, we just get white text on a black background with varied quotes. ...Not sure why I'm summarizing what a silent film is. You should know it by now. You're smart.

The movie follows the story of the mysterious Count Drac-- er, no, Count Orlok! Apparently, the studio was not authorized to use the names of the characters as presented in Bram Stoker's novel, "Dracula", so they had to replace them with alternatives. Heck, they couldn't even use the term "vampire"; hence, the title of "nosferatu" in its place, though the origins of this term are not entirely known. However, one English translation of the film actually DOES use the names Stoker provided -- Dracula, vampire, etc. What a world. Anyway, the storyline doesn't seem to follow any one person in particular throughout, but basically, we have a "main" character, Jonathon Harker (or Thomas Hutter in the German edition), who is paying a visit to a business client, Orlok, way out in Transylvania. The people in the area fear Orlok and do not even want to mention his name. Eventually, he gets to Orlok's castle and has to spend a night or two there... for purely business reasons, correct? I must say... Count Orlok/Dracula is clearly not the type of host you would want at your friendly neighbourhood inn, I can assure you that. The guy starts getting creepy when the Harker fella cuts his thumb while slicing a loaf of bread and the dark-eyed Orlok exclaims, "Blood! Your precious blood!" and wants to suck it out directly. If that's not a sordid way of welcoming a houseguest... Well, Harker awakens from his slumber later with bitemarks on his neck anyway, but he thinks mosquitoes are the culprit. Guess he wasn't as familiar with vampire culture at the time. Later on, he later sees a picture of Harker's wife and exclaims, "Is this your wife? What a lovely throat!" Not a boob man, it seems. And of course, finding the innkeeper sleeping in a coffin is a dead giveaway of trouble ahead.

Meanwhile, Jonathon's wife, Mina (or Ellen, depending on which version you're watching) starts sensing the evils of Orlok through her dreams and ends up getting easily freaked out. And rightfully so -- a vampire is suckling at your husband! That's almost adultery. Orlok ends up taking advantage of Harker's business associate, Mr. Renfield (Knock, in Germany), from afar; Renfield appears to suffer from insanity and gets placed into a psych ward. As more and more people succumb to Orlok's distant telepathic effects, the townsfolk think a plague is going around. Always blaming the plague! Near the end of the film, Orlok goes to Harker's town -- with his own port-a-coffin for napping, no less -- and tries to lure Mina, likely for her succulent lady blood. It's odd to see him eerily peering out of a window, claws to the glass. Typically, a man of that nature would also have binoculars. Sadly, or not sadly, he ultimately fails after a rooster crows and he realizes, "Oh crap, it's morning. Better get back to my coffin as soon as possible." He tries to escape the village as well, but he ends up poofing into smoke in an extremely low-budget fashion. It's a complex storyline, perhaps more complex than I have outlined here, but hopefully, I got the basic point across.

The acting in this film is rather creepy. Because of the lack of overt speech, all the actors have to resort to hammy acting to illustrate emotions and context as best they can. Unfortunately, to someone watching this movie almost ninety years later, I would declare the acting to be terrible. I will give a bit of an ovation to the simplistic but effective makeup job on Max Schreck, the actor who portrayed Count Orlok. He freaked me out. He also appeared to be rather tall in this film... was he on stilts, perhaps?

What was equally interesting was that, for the most part, the people actually moved about at a decent pace (most old movies ran at a different framerate than modern films, resulting in them appearing to be on speed when performing any actions on account of being played on newer instruments), but Nosferatu's wagon traveled much faster than everything else in the movie. Must be a lot of horsepower in that buggy. As well, most films resort to darkness in order to provide suspense; in this case, just the opposite is noted. Most scenes are brighter than necessary, resulting in a slightly lesser spook effect from a lighting perspective. Nosferatu claims that, at one point, it is almost midnight, but it looks more like noon! And as long as I'm noting things off the normal path, there are also scenes where characters are seen talking to each other, and yet there are no title cards to indicate what they're saying. So...what are they really talking about? I suppose it's up to us to determine the truth.

The music played throughout the film is generally abstract but fitting, although it gets occasionally grating on the ears. Sounds more like a soundtrack prepared by Björk than anything else; it's often very dark and unpleasant. There are also occasions where there is no music at all. At one point early in the film, all we hear is repeated wailing. Now THAT'S scary. Not as scary as Björk, but still scary.

But I could say many mouthfuls about this movie, panning it especially in relation to modern films. However, I need to look at Nosferatu from a historical perspective. When it was first released, and even now, it receives generally universal praise for its storytelling, as well as from an early 1920s technical perspective. It is a staple in cinematic history, and we should treat it as such. But damn, that movie was just weird. Interesting, but...weird.


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