Any movie that achieves anniversary, especially those over the benchmark of 50-years becomes something special, however when a film reaches 95-years a clear testimony and still serving as enduring quality and remembered fondly for generations, that horror fans is one many reason for an article on Nosferatu (aka: Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror). A movie that had a very controversial start and even more bizarre, a film ordered long ago, to be destroyed and turn to ash, but hard to keep both the undead and namely a vampire stake to the afterlife, as a print survived and resurrected itself from death’s grasp. Everyone knows the story of Dracula whether seeing the movies or reading the novel, no need to cover the plot, rather, let’s recall the history of this classic (only 5-years shy of its 100th).
At the time, early in the cinema, source material often came from literature and this time the studio used Bram Stoker’s book without his estate and widow’s permission, and tried to cover themselves by making small character name changes however the courts saw through the deliberately adjusted attempts, and ordered the destruction of Nosferatu. In addition, an interesting footnote, Bram Stoker’s Dracula originally published on May 26, 1897, making for its own anniversary of 120-years, but that 25-years later this legendary movie became the first movie to cover the story. Since then Stoker’s name credit to over 120 films and was the source material for Henrik Galeen’s screenplay, and transform to a German expressionist film by noted director F.W. Murnau. His Nosferatu picture forever immortalized name in cinematic history, coincidently he passed on one month after the release of Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931).
Many horror fans agree that the Dracula has truly enjoyed a longevity noting the name appearing over 500 times in films along the way, omitted the term or keyword vampires. Needless the movie presents itself in an original with hints of red (pink), light gold, blue, greenish blue, many hues used never just a black and white movie, and hence differing upon what release one sees, most aficionados of the movie strive to view and some attempt collect them all, in lies another mysterious issue of the Count. The music changes to the names of characters, even location name, allow him to continue to rise, forevermore, especially when 100s of companies use the low quality public domain movie for the release, which span over DVDs and now Blu-rays, and before then every media format possible. Most recently, Shudder began streaming the movie in 2015, but other noteworthy companies also release film, as for the one this reviewer watched, the Photoplay version, which had the magnificent composer James Bernard’s music accompanying it. Bernard well known to the Hammer Studios’ horror fans, which some themes of their movies carried over to this version, and for the curious minded a special Silva Screen vinyl red double LP is still available at the time of this article’s writing.
While many actors have donned the cape and flashed the fangs, such as Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931) and of course most noted Christopher Lee in countless Hammer Dracula movies, was Max Schreck, who technically never played the title character Dracula rather Graf Orlok another one of those little changes in script. Although a few other actors portrayed the character of Orlok, Schreck still ranks as number one, however a close second and ideally a great companion for a double feature is the movie Shadow of the Vampire (2001), which Willem Dafoe plays Max Schreck, a role earned him an Oscar nomination.
As opposed to the creation of Dracula normally portrayed as a suave gentleman dining on precious necks, while wearing a tux and luxurious black cape with a blood drenched red interior, and nothing like the sparkly Twilight vamps, Murnau’s vampire presents a more as devilish demonic rat beast. His fangs appear as deformed teeth of the rat, a scurrying hated creature, with bat ears and a bald head, best description, think of Pluto (Michael Berryman) from The Hills Have Eyes (1977). This all helps to solidify the film with the numerous iconic images that horror fans know extremely well, climb the stairs to his victim’s room, against the ship’s rigging and the rising from his coffin with rigid back. A pure trivial note Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) references that last image in his film, at 40:05 for those that require even more reference points. If there was a movie, which didn’t require anymore mystery or innuendos than Nosferatu, is just that film, however it found itself with two more layers of intrigue, surround lead actor Schreck, the oddness of him and his role, and that of his German name which translates to mean terror. Secondly, Luciano Berriatua’s documentary featured on Kino International release of Nosferatu: The Ultimate Edition explores the filmmakers, namely Albin Grau, a known occultist and art director on the film with possibly more connections to the occult.
Like most silent movies, the acting is very over-the-top, Gustav von Wangenheim (as Hutter [Harker role]) and Greta Schröder (Ellen) in their respective roles take them to almost ridiculous proportions, but with Schreck star lead this element often finds itself overlooked, because one enjoys the entire movie. Murnau’s direction generates a level of realism, for the belief in vampires and enhances the gothic material, making for a lasting and memorable villainous character all for countless years and generations of fans. Nosferatu is a masterpiece, regarded highly by directors, reviewers, critics, film historians and composers, it transcends past the horror genre, but many worry that future generation of filmmakers likely to omit it from their scope. However, as time has easily shown, Nosferatu is a tough vampire to put down permanently, noting that in 1979 a remake occurred reviving the tale once more by director Werner Herzog for Nosferatu the Vampyre, which incidentally had a sequel in 1988 called Vampire in Venice.
Nosferatu of today serves more as staple in horror history, and while scarring audiences, decades ago it truly finds itself defanged now, for the modern viewers. Many bypass the movie altogether as a backlash to both black-and-white movies and silent features, however true vampire lovers and cinema fans will take the time to view the must see classic which went onward to inspire countless other creations through the annuals of the horror history.