Saturday, 27 October 2012

Nosferatu (1922)

Might as well review Nosferatu now; hopefully I'll get a good few pageviews after Mark Gatiss' documentary is screened on BBC 4 on Thursday...! My version has a rather splendid electronic / industrial soundtrack which suits the mood of the film superbly, although the death metal growling after an hour and seven minutes is somewhat unexpected! There are some wincingly bad translations of some intertitles (and there are a lot of intertitles) but the picture is excellent, and it's good to see the sepia tint.

I'm surprised that this is only the third version of Dracula that I've reviewed- not, of course, that F.W. Murnau or anyone making it at the time would have admitted any such thing. The film is blatant version of the novel and, in particular, the stage play: Count Orlok is Dracula, Ellen is Lucy, Hutte is Harker, Knock is Renfield, and so on. Transposing the action to Germany in 1838 doesn't change any of this. There are differences in emphasis combined with other versions, perhaps, and the ending is unexpected, but there's no mistaking this as anything other than a version of Dracula.

This is a film very much in the German Expressionist style, although the style does not dominate as it does in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; for the most part there is realism, with Expressionism being used only to emphasise the evil and sinister, notably in the depiction of Knock's office, a distorted room with along-legged chair and wring proportions, accompanying the deeply sinister and melodramatic acting and make-up through which the character is shown. Nosferatu is shown through bizarre camera angles- one shot from below, on the ship, is particularly effective, as is a scene towards the end where we see his distorted shadow attacking Ellen.

Max Schrek gives us a deeply unsettling and nightmare-inducing Count. His performance and appearance alone makes this one of the most frightening movies I've ever seen. The appearance of Count Orlok is far more terrifying to me than any amount of gore. The flip side of this, of course, is that the monstrously ugly Count is de-sexualised. The erotic subtext of the novel and most adaptations is pretty much discarded in place of chills.

There is some impressive special effects work here for 1922- Orlok's lack of any underlings whatsoever is compensated for by magic, as his coffin loads itself on to a cart and a shop sails as if by magic. The emphasis on "plague", with much Black Death style imagery, and the extended, claustrophobic sequences on the ship are highlights, and a nice change from the more traditional adaptation that we would later come to expect.

Nosferatu looks great, as we would expect, and is probably the only film I've reviewed for the blog so far that I've found genuinely scary. I recommend it hugely.

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