Considered to be one of the most influential horror movies ever made, Nosferatu is a masterpiece of cinema. It’s brilliant news that the BFI have issued a Blu-Ray release of this chilling classic to coincide with it’s gothic season and this time of year. So if you’re too afraid to venture beyond the threshold of your own dwellings you can settle down and re-watch the original vampire film.
This landmark film is a staple in film history, through the faction of German Expressionism, this bold artist movement spread through Germany during the First World War and from it an array of striking paintings, films and architecture was created. This unique vision of Bram Stokers Dracula was never approved by the Stoker estate due to the film makers never actually obtaining the rights and a court ordered that all prints were to be destroyed. However, you cannot kill the undead that easily. Every detail from direction to cinematography to performance has been intricately thought out and it’s a sanction that the film has survived for everyone to see.
Opting to shoot in real locations rather than exaggerated sets that German Expressionism was known for, Muranu wanted to shoot the real life locations as it created a true sense of terror that was echoing through Europe at the time. The brilliant Max Schrek installs a disconcerting fear inside you as he shuffles through the arch ways of Slovakia.
German Expressionism went about exaggerating their set pieces into looming, sharp angles on purpose but every location that Murnau and his crew used was a perfect fit to bring the anti-realism of films of this movement into a real world environment and in that delivering a real sense of trepidation for it’s characters and the audience.
Full of iconic scenes and imagery, such as the ever haunting sequence of the Count’s shadow gliding up the stair case, each moment of this film will stay with you. This all helps with the terrifying performance of the great Max Schreck. Although he appeared in a few films after Nosferatu he’s mainly remembered for his outstanding role as Count Orlok.
Max embraced the grotesque of the character described in the famous novel, from the rat like facial features down to the slick otherworldly movements. The iconic moment as he rises up out of the coffin, rats’ pouring from his feet is a gross sight that makes you feel dirty, his eyes strike a horrid chord within. It’s a frightening image that I’m sure at the time was terrifying viewing in the cinemas of the 20’s.
Like with all great horror films, as time passes people become inoculated and desensitised to such things. And it goes to say that this film is much the same, but it still strong for its artistry and incredible atmosphere it still brings.
Like any good horror should, it creates unsettling emotions that still surface even today after multiple viewings. Most good vampire films explore the key themes that are ever prominent from its source, such as the fear of disease and xenophobia and Murnau’s film perfectly captures those fears for the first time for everyone to experience.
This, along with the technical side of the film, from the chiaroscuro to the choice of set and framing, still stands the test of time and it’s still fascinating to see where the origins of such a monstrous horror has come from with this masterwork of gothic cinema.