Nosferatu (1922) is nearly a century old now, so it’s a very interesting watch! It’s so fascinating to see the techniques and the overacting-by-modern-standards that was common in the silent film era.
FW Murnau didn’t have the rights to make a film version of Dracula – so he made it anyway but changed all the names. The action switches from Whitby to Wisborg, Dracula becomes Nosferatu, and the Harkers become the Hutters. I don’t think it stopped the filmmakers from getting sued by the Stoker estate.
Junior estate agent Thomas Hutter gets a big job from his boss Knock. ‘I may be away for several months,’ he says to his wife Ellen, and off he runs, no preparation, he just runs back in to grab his hat! We then get a couple of scenes where he’s clearly come back for a long drawn-out goodbye, and Ellen can’t cope with this so she has to be looked after by relatives.
We get our first example of ‘superstitious locals’ here, so ably demonstrated in later films such as yesterday’s Friday the 13th. They warn Hutter off, but of course he takes no notice.
I love the ‘I don’t believe this book about vampires’ overacting! Hutter then has a good laugh at the superstitious locals being all ‘No way, we’re not driving you up to the vampire’s castle’ and leaving him at the side of the road. Maybe he likes the exercise?
Count Orlok’s opening scene is quite understated – no big entrance, he’s just standing in a courtyard.
The traditional ‘Whoops, cut myself’ scene is present and correct though. ‘Blood! your precious blood!’ says Orlok, who is kind of obviously sinister about it, sucking Hutter’s finger and all, and you kind of wonder why the latter doesn’t run there and then.
Also, Hutter sleeps in a chair the first night – you’d think Orlok would keep up the pretence by offering him a bed.
There’s a nicely-done reveal where Thomas is writing to Ellen and says that he’s been bitten by mosquitoes – two bites very close together.
I love how you could apparently send a letter in those days just by flagging down the nearest random on a horse! I wonder if that was actually the case?
‘Your wife has a beautiful neck,’ says Orlok on seeing Ellen’s picture. So hokey! ‘I shall take the house – the handsome deserted house opposite yours,’ he continues, because he completely doesn’t care that he’s being really obvious about his plans.
Suddenly Hutter believes the vampire book from the last place he stayed in, which he still has with him. Why has he been carting it about if he thought it was stupid in the first place?
Back in Wisborg, Ellen randomly has a mad turn and tries to climb off a balcony – the reason for this is not explained. There’s some connection between Ellen and Orlok that stops the latter from harming Thomas – where is this psychic energy coming from?
‘A harmless blood condition!’ says the doctor who’s been called to look at Ellen, starting a fine tradition of clueless authorities telling horror film characters that there’s nothing to worry about.
The reveal of the vampire in the coffin takes place fairly early on for a Dracula adaptation. Again, why doesn’t Hutter run away at this point? After opening the coffin, he just goes straight back to his room! Still, it does mean he (and therefore the audience as well) sees Nosferatu being loaded onto a cart. Hutter then does the classic bedsheets-out-the-window escape, which is a bit superfluous seeing as the vampire’s left the castle – he could just have walked out the front door instead.
What does the ‘Professor Bulwer gives a lecture to his students about carnivorous plants’ bit have to do with anything? ‘That plant is the vampire of the vegetable kingdom.’ Yes, but that tenuous link is ALL it has in common with Nosferatu, and it’s not followed up.
Nosferatu uses long-distance psychic means to turn Knock, who is still in Wisborg, insane. What’s the vampire’s plan here? Knock never does anything useful for him for the rest of the film, apart from being a scapegoat when strange things start happening in town.
I like the atmospheric beach scenes of Ellen waiting for Thomas. Very Whitby…in Wisborg.
There’s a nice plot progression on the boat carrying the vampire, with the sailors gradually falling ill. There’s also an irritating continuity problem with the vampire apparently wandering about the ship deck in broad daylight!
Ellen is now also psychically controlled by the vampire, but at least there’s an explainable purpose for that.
There’s a nice page-long explanation about the vampire needing to sleep in the earth in which he was buried. You don’t get many explanations for things in this film, so I quite appreciate it.
Why has Thomas brought the vampire book back to Wisborg if he doesn’t want Ellen to read it?
I like Ellen’s realisation about what she has to do to kill the vampire – an early example of a female character showing nouse and self-sacrifice!
Professor Bulwer has a purpose after all! Ellen uses him as deception to get the hapless Thomas out of the way so she can get on with her plan of destroying the vampire.
Does Ellen die at the end? It’s not clear.
On the whole, it’s all a bit nonsensical, but it’s quite fun to watch such an early example of a horror film!
Back to the Halloween movies tomorrow.