Monday, March 23, 2009

The Great Movies: "Nosferatu"


Nosferatu
F.W. Murnau, 1921

Well, here we are again in the age of the silents. Nosferatu, the granddaddy of the horror genre, is among the oldest of the Great Movies, and looks it. Whether from the limitations inherent during film or through decay over time, the film itself is brittle-looking and riddled with flaws and jerks. It's only seven years older than The Passion of Joan of Arc, for instance, but it looks like it comes from another time. This antique quality lends it a certain charm, however, and makes it easier to appreciate without adverse comparisons with the technical slickness of modern films.

On its own terms, Nosferatu is a special-effects spectacular. Almost all of the actual special effects would look ridiculously crude in a movie today, but its use of stop-motion, fast-forward motion, colored filters, moving cameras, and photonegative must have dazzled the watchers back in the day. The stagecraft, moreover -- the use of good old fashioned makeup, costuming, and sets -- would be masterful in any era.

Some of the most vivid shots, such as the famous shadow of the vampire climbing the stairs toward his victim, probably made the original viewers leap out of their chairs. Some of the subtler shots are even more effective, though. Near the end there is a view that encompasses an entire bedroom; a victim lies on the bed, with the vampire's head just barely visible, quietly feeding at her neck. The animal compulsion suggested by this quick scene is far creepier than the beast-attacking-the-terrified-maiden sequence that precedes it.

Plot: A young assistant realtor travels to Transylvania, where a client has expressed interest in buying a second home in his little German town. The client proves difficult to work with. There is some business about plague and, of course, quite a bit of business about vampirism. The connection between the two is never really made clear, but I suppose that's niggling.

Visuals: Oops, I already talked about the visuals above. One thing I didn't mention, though, is Murnau's terrific use of settings. From mountain scenery, to the Count's castle, to the streetscapes of the charming little town, the action is always compellingly framed in interesting scenery.

Dialog: n/a. Fairly heavy use of dialog title cards. Murnau also uses shots of books and other documents to convey plot information.

Prognosis: Although not quite as artistically sophisticated as The Passion of Joan of Arc, Nosferatu is an immaculately crafted film. Despite its age, it may retain some campy entertainment value for horror fans or vampire buffs. Those on the History of Film Grand Tour are likely to find it one of the most enjoyable of the silent-era stops.

4 comments:

Yankee in England said...

I find the dvd cover more than slightly disturbing. I think it is the fact that the guy had over grown rabbit teeth.

KarmaSartre said...

His hair is barely there
His lips a sweet surprise
He’s got a cold, cold stare
He's got Marty Feldman eyes

He'll turn the ogle on you
You won't have to think twice
He's cruel as New York snow
He's got Marty Feldman eyes

And he'll tease you
He'll unease you
All the better just to eat you
He's precocious
And he knows just what it takes to make a neck blush
He's got Peter Lorre stand-off sighs
He's got Marty Feldman eyes

He'll let you take him home
(it whets his appetite)
He'll lay you on the throne
He's got Marty Feldman eyes

He'll take a tumble on you
Chew until your hickey’s deep blue
He's got Marty Feldman eyes

He'll expose you
When he snows you off your feet
With stares he throws you
He's ferocious
And he knows just what it takes to make a neck blush
The young girls never wonder why
He's got Marty Feldman eyes

And he'll tease you
He'll unease you
All the better just to bite you
He's got Marty Feldman eyes

He'll expose you
When he bites you
And he knows you
He's got Marty Feldman eyes

Kadonkadonk said...

I wonder how they would have made vampires sparkle back then?

Yankee in England said...

Ha ha sparkle