Monday, October 1, 2012

Halloween movie month: Nosferatu

Nosferatu (1922)
Netflix instant
Rating:  4/5

Basic plot:  Loosely based on Bram Stoker's Dracula (though, having to change the names and some of the details for legal reasons), Nosferatu is about a vampire named Count Orlock that comes to a small German town, bringing death with him.  The standard cast of vampire characters are there:  the vampire, the protagonist, the protagonist's love (in this case, his wife), the vampire's servant, and the town mob.

Nosferatu, being made in the 1920s, is a silent film.  Being from an era of classic movies not only gives it some of its charm, but a lot of its creepy factor.  Without talking from the characters to tell the story, the entire story has to be driven by the musical score and the physical acting of the characters.  Music has always played a major role in films, and to this day helps to set the tone...especially in scary movies.  In silent films, the music not only helps to set the IS the tone.  Ok, so, that's an exaggeration.  But it definitely played a much bigger role back then.  So how was the music?  Pretty good, actually.  It's probably not a soundtrack that I would listen to just for the sake of listening to it.  And there aren't really any instantly noticeable songs (such as the themes to Godfather, Star Wars, or Superman, which are known to everyone - even people who have never seen those movies).  But there is no question about what tone is being conveyed in each scene.  And there are musical themes that you will pick up that belong to each main character.  There were a few times that the music reminded me of the theme from Halloween.  To me, this shows how the tones that helped to set the scenes in Nosferatu have persisted on into today's horror.

As far as the look of the film, there are some beautifully composed shots.  And some of the effects, which must have been groundbreaking at the time, still hold up for helping Orlock be super creepy.  Unfortunately, because the film is so old, the quality of the film has not fared well and there are several times that the color will change.  Most of the time, it's a standard sepia tone.  But on occasion will have tints of blue, green, or red.

Now, onto the physical acting.  For the most part, the acting was what you would expect from your average silent movie - big smiles and over-exaggerated movements.  Except for Orlock (played by Max Schreck).  Schreck's blank expressions, unwavering stares, and cold, deliberate movements are such a stark contrast that it really helps to set him apart.  While there wasn't much "startle" factor, there were a few scenes that are downright creepy! There are rumors surrounding the movie (rumors that served as the basis of the movie Shadow of the Vampire) that Schreck himself was an actual vampire.  And with how well he played Count Orlock, I can certainly see why those rumors were started.

Recommendation:  This is definitely a must see!  Whether you are a fan of horror movies, or just a fan of movies in general, you owe it to yourself to see this classic.  There was no blood, so this certainly isn't going to be the goriest movie of the month.  And there weren't really any startling moments of loud noises as things jump out of the shadows or of closets, so this isn't going to be the scariest movie of the month either.  But Nosferatu was able to be creepy from just the music and the performance of one character (seriously, Schreck nailed that role).  It was creepy in the same way that reading a book can sometimes be scarier than watching a movie, because your imagination fills in some of the missing pieces.

On a side note:  From a film-lover's view, this film seemed to have such an impact on many other movies that I loved that were a bit creepy.  Most notably, the music at times reminded me of Halloween, and the look of Count Orlock reminded me of The Strangers from Dark City (see below) and the vampires from 30 Days of Night.

Nosferatu - doorway scene

Dark City - doorway scene

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next review in Halloween movie month (if you have any suggestions for a catchy name for this month of reviews, feel free to send them my way).


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