Noticing Nosferatu

Some things simply can’t be improved.It can be decades old or even centuries and it simply cannot get better.

Classic literature, authentic Italian cuisine, and that funny family story that one cousin tells every reunion and still manages to make it funny.

This rule is especially true in horror films.

So, hop in the time machine and jump back a little less than a century years or so and revel in one of the greatest horror films of all time. W. F. Murnau’s 1922 silent screamer Nosferatu.

The plot follows a Germanized version of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. A young plucky lawyer is sent to Transylvania to secure a wealthy count’s (I wonder who that could be?) request to move to a new home in London.

Shortly after arriving in Transylvania, things get wierd. His host, Count Orlock (or Dracula in some versions), is the picture of grotesque. His brides are insatiable in their quest for sex and blood. After being held prisoner for some time, Jonathan risks his life to escape down the castle wall. He finds his way back to London and his lovely wife Mina. Little does he know that Orlock is asleep inside a coffin crate, on a boat headed right for him.

There are things about this movie that most people today don’t get. It is not choc-full of pithy dialogue (no talking at all in fact, it’s a silent movie). It is not vibrant and colorful (grainy black and white). Most of all it is not a mindless gore splattered vehicle.

However, if you look past the cushy “necessities” of modern cinema, Nosferatu can surprise you. In center stage is the Count himself. Max Schreck shows us a Count that is to this day entirely unique. He is not suave, sophisticated, or sexy. Wielding, fingernails like garden shears, ears akin to the Weekly World News Icon “Batboy”, and teeth that put any chipmunk to shame, Orlock is plain ugly. This makes it all the more surprising that Schreck can put enough into the character to make him appealing despite the appearance. He plays the character like he is having way too much fun, and defines “overacting”, even in the silent movie era, where everybody is inclined to overact. He casts a spell with his eyes, that almost prohibits the audience to look anywhere else. And any scene without his grotesquery and hulking form seems incomplete and boring. He makes the movie.

Horror has obviously evolved since Nosferatu. However it never hurts to go back in time, to look at the early work. It’s similar to going through Da Vinci’s childhood doodles, or Einstein’s old math homework. To appreciate where the genre is, it’s necessary to see where it came from.

In short, there’s a difference between an Old Movie and a God Damn Classic. Nosferatu sits comfortably on its throne as creepy king of the latter category.

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