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Nosferatu (1922)

by on 2011/08/22

“Is this your wife? What a lovely throat.”

* * * *

When I was a kid, I had this big paperback book about movie monsters. I loved it. I was cool as the proverbial cucumber when it came to werewolves, witches and swamp things.

I thought I was tough.

Not so, apparently.

When I finally got around to the grainy black-and-white picture of Count Orlok from Nosferatu, I screamed bloody murder and heaved the book at the wall.

Neither I, nor the book, were ever really ever the same after that.

This is the oldest movie ever reviewed on the Nosferatu is not only a remarkable achievement in the history of film but a towering achievement in the pantheon of terror.

I freely admit that watching a stuttering, jittering,  filthy print of this F. W. Murnau-directed silent film from the 1920s still scares me.

If you don’t believe me, check out the part where the Count is lurking in shadows at the foot of Ellen’s bed (aka Mina Harker).  All you can see is the half-moon of his white, white skull and a glittering, maniacal eye.

I defy you to tell me that scene isn’t primordially terrifying.

Hacker Renders was saying recently that he breaks down vampire villains into two categories: the “Dinner Guest” and the “Rat Man”.

Schreck is clearly the great grand-daddy of the Rat Man, all curling claws, hungry eyes and pointed teeth.

In fact, Max Schreck, the Berlin-born actor who played Count Orlok, was so effective in the role that it sparked a decades-long, only-half-joking debate about whether he was a vampire in real life.

This thought was made film in the great E. Elias Merhige-directed movie Shadow of the Vampire with Willem Dafoe playing the creepy Schreck.

I read that Schreck was a legitimately strange person who enjoyed long walks in the dark and was (clearly) uniquely effective portraying horrifying characters. Too effective, some say.

Watching it again, Schreck makes me believe in vampires.

Greta Schröder as Ellen Hutter, wife to the hapless realtor Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is a substantial, somewhat complicated character herself. She’s more that just a simpering, helpless Mina, more than just bait. She’s a woman with both courage and resolve, albeit a somewhat crazy kind of both good qualities. Ellen’s like a passive (but effective) Buffy the Vampire Slayer — a progenitor for the ass-kicking heroines to come.

This movie still amazes me — that I could feel more for these characters who can’t speak than for the characters of some more modern films with vast reserves of audio-visual wizardry at their disposal. Through flashing eyes, flailing hands and clutching breasts, these actors communicated more terror than many modern horror films manage with CGI effects and massive budgets.

In short, any self-respecting vampire fan needs to drink from this wellspring of terror. It is the flickering, dark place where it all began.

But people with weak hearts should test themselves first by looking at a photograph of Count Orlok.

* * * *

Full movie (public domain) available here:

PG for Count Orlok’s face (seriously, you’ll never stop screaming) and people smoking huge, huge, huge pipes

81 minutes

  1. noonanjohnc permalink

    Completely agree with this.

    I’ve just finished reviewing it myself. Well, I say review…

    Anyway, I’ll be checking in here again. Keep up the good work.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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