Thursday, October 16, 2014
(June 1929, U.S.)
Even now, as I write this post, there is currently a new film in theaters which traces the origins of Dracula called DRACULA UNTOLD. Coincidentally, F.W. Murnau's German expressionist silent film of NOSFERATU was the first time Bram Stoker's legendary vampire origins had ever been put to the screen. The film was unauthorized and therefore, several key features had to be changed. For one thing, the word "vampire" is never used and is instead replaced with "Nosferatu". Second, and most important, key character names are changed, including Count Dracula himself. Instead, he's called "Count Orlok", though strangely my particular DVD of the film released by Diamond Entertainment restores the original character names in the film's dialogue screens that we've all come to know throughout Dracula history, i.e Jonathon Harker, Mina, Lucy and Dracula himself. For those who might not know, NOSFERATU is a film that falls under the public domain (look that up!), which means any DVD company can carry it and release it and I suppose do whatever the hell they please with it.
Were it possible to write a film post using only pictures and images from a film, NOSFERATU may very well be it, as it's one of the creepiest black and white silent horror films I've ever seen and one I still enjoy watching late at night in the darkness of my living room as Halloween quickly approaches. Take a real close look at some of these iconic film images to know what I'm talking about...
Now with all due respect to some of the other men who have played the great Count before - Bela Legugosi, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman and even George Hamilton (LOVE AT FIRST BITE), study well the face of Max Schreck and tell me he isn't the most unnerving, terrifying version of Dracula you've ever seen! It's just another valid reason that classic black and white horror films should never be overlooked by the modern generation. There's no gentlemanly charm, grace or suaveness in any of the vampire's manner, but rather just the pure physical elements of terror and evil. One can't help but wonder if Bram Stoker pictured Dracula as a menacing fiend with a bald head, large ears and exceedingly long fingernails, which Max Schreck no doubt is, or was he meant to be an elegant gentleman in a long black cape with the power to swoon helpless women under his powerful spell? From my own perspective, I can't help but think that every version of Dracula's persona is a considerable step down once you've gotten past the original horror of who he is and what he lives (and dies) for.
One particular story element that tends to stand alone in NOSFERATU as compared with many other story versions is that when Dracula first leaves his village of Transylvania and travels to another land (be it London or wherever), he brings with him a terrible plague that seems to take the form of thousands of rats (Werner Herzog's 1979 color film version emphasized the same). This is a truly frightening implication of what a strange presence in a strange land can bring with him and with his evil intentions. While Bela, Christopher, Frank and Gary may terrify us (or perhaps even amuse us) with their bloody attacks on helpless, sleeping ladies, it's the creepy vampire in this film that, while bringing death and evil to an unsuspecting public, also brings a certain ambiguity of just how horrible his presence is. Perhaps now, during a time of fear and panic during the Ebola crisis, can we truly use our imagination when concluding whether or not it's the vampire himself or the evil death in the form of the plague that follows him that truly scares us.
As an original story of Dracula, NOSFERATU is pure images, atmosphere and artistry at a time before Hollywood inevitably drowned the vampire's tale in a sea of humor, clichés and teenage high school fantasies (TWILIGHT movies). Even by today's horror film standards, this is still a film that can haunt us and frighten us, provided we still have the open minded imagination that allows it to happen. That is perhaps what being scared at the movies is all about!
Favorite line or dialogue:
How's that for something a little different!