by Ken B.
Nosferatu, for all intents and purposes, is one of the most respected and well-preserved public domain films created. You heard me. This movie’s copyright is expired, it’s fair game.
But we’re not here to discuss copyright. We’re here to discuss this as a film. It’s a horror movie that actually succeeds at being unsettling to the audience it was presented. Sure, modern day vampires are the grammatical equivalency of handsome sparkly people, but back in the 1800s and early 1900s, it was one of fiction’s most terrifying devices. Unfortunately today, because of how film has expanded and technologically developed, most of the feeling here of any fright is lost.
Nosferatu is a thinly veiled Dracula. Actually, it explicitly credits Bram Stoker in the opening. The source is what led this film to court and bankrupted the new studio that produced this thing. It’s roots are obvious, all that’s really changed are the names of the characters.
Real estate expert Thomas Hutter (GUSTAV von WANGENHEIM) and his wife Ellen (GRETA SCHRÖER) live in a small German town. One day, he receives the news that the distant Count Dracu– I mean, “Orlok” (MAX SCHRECK) is coming to look for a place to stay in town. Hutter decides to meet up with Orlok, but soon realizes that this man is… Strange. (The most telling point is when Hutter cuts his finger, and Orlok replies with the phrase “You’ve hurt yourself — the precious blood!”
I will not continue with the plot. Surely you are all familiar with the story of Dracula.
Many hold this film with great accord, and rightly so. But see how this movie has 3.5 stars and not a perfect 4? I’m writing to the modern audience, and the magnitude this picture will have on you is far lesser than it would have had in the 1920s, when it was shown how cinema could truly tell stories.
Today even, director F.W. Murnau’s expressionist creation is held in high regard. It’s as bold and as imposing visually as the man’s height was (6’10”). The story quaintly unfolds before taking a real swing and setting it into full motion, exposing the growing threat of the town with Nosferatu’s approaching arrival.
Unlike most movies which purport to make the viewer’s nerves edge out, you’re left actually thinking about what you just saw, as opposed to a thousand gallons of blood and gore and the nearly systematic promise of an instant forgetting of what you just saw.
Nosferatu is not especially frightening by today’s cultural standards (the news, political ads, and medicine recall commercials are far more creepy), but it has no feeling of rushing itself. It has a story that supplies 90 minutes. That’s that, and it knows it. This, in turn, allows you to enter its world, despite the fact there’s no color or spoken dialogue.
However, once again, I must say that it’s not as engaging as it might have been seven decades or more ago, where the budding film reality had little to offer, and at something that was expanding at such a rapid rate, its sensibility and sturdiness in storytelling was a number to hold on to.
There’s no legal protection for Nosferatu now, so I cannot stress enough that it must be faithfully preserved and expected, so it can be there for the moviegoer in the years and years to come.