Some movies just seep into the language of cinema, their visuals and style becoming incredibly familiar, even if you have never seen the film in question. F.W. Murnau’s legendary Nosferatu is one of those movies.
Murnau’s silent 1922 film, (unofficially) based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, sees Max Shreck’s vampire, Count Orlock as he becomes involved with estate agent, Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) and his wife Ellen (Greta Schröder).
The estate of Bram Stoker wasn’t happy with Nosferatu, suing the film’s makers. While the names of the characters have been changed, and the word ‘vampire’ has been replaced by ‘Nosferatu’, the core story of Stoker’s text remains the same. Most of the film’s prints were destroyed following the legal action, but enough survived to help the film become a classic. The influence of Nosferatu on the horror genre cannot be over hyped, with the film’s strong visuals and eerie tone becoming a byword for expressionist horror. Werner Herzog remade the film in 1979 with Klaus Kinski , while a fictionalised account of the film’s making was made as Shadow of the Vampire in 2000. The name Max Shreck was used for Christopher Walken’s character in Batman Returns (1992), a movie highly influenced by German expressionist cinema. Every frame is an absorbing image, many of which have become iconic in their own right. Even if you haven’t seen the film, it’s a fair bet that you have seen something that has used its visuals for inspiration.
In the 21st Century it is difficult for a silent film to create an edge-of-your-seat tension. Nosferatu manages to do this. The pacing for the film is well timed, while the sinister tone permeates through the entire film – even when Shreck’s Orlock is not on the screen. The look of Orlock is striking, his misshaped head and ears and elongated fingers add an otherworldly quality to the character. If vampires did exist then surely they would look like this. Todd Browning’s official adaptation of Dracula in 1931 may have introduced us to Bela Lugosi’s suave Transylvanian Count and Christopher Lee may have continued that tradition in the Hammer movies, but, Murnau’s film and Shreck’s Orlock are just as iconic and infinitely more terrifying.
This restored version of Nosferatu comes with a great documentary about Murnau and the making of the film, commentaries and an in-depth 80 page book that adds extra insight into the film. This is an exquisite package for the film that had previosuly been available in poorer quality versions over the years. If you love the movie, or have even a passing interest in it then you really should go for the upgrade.