nosferatu | f.w. murnau | henrik galeen | max schreck | alexander granach | gustav von wangenheim | vampire | based on | novel | bram stoker | eine Symphonie des Grauens | germany | fantasy | Greta Schröder | greta schroder | georg h. schnell | ruth landsoff
Film: Nosferatu (Eine Symphonie des Grauens)
Director: F.W. Murnau
Writer: Henrik Galeen
Starring: Max Schreck, Alexander Granach and Gustav von Wangenheim
The first time I decided to check this film out was in college. I had taken an Intro to World Cinema and it started with the classic silent horror films. It sparked me to seek out this original version of the Dracula tale, even though they didn’t have permission to use it. The official synopsis is vampire Count Orlok (Max Schreck) expresses interest in a new residence and real estate agent Hutter’s (Gustav von Wangenheim) wife.
Much like the source material, this film is starts with Hutter being told that a Count Orlok is looking to buy property in Wisbourg. He is to go there to get the documents signed by him. The man telling him to go is Knock (Alexander Granach). It is on his journey through to Transylvania, he learns that no one will go to Orlok’s castle at night and it is the land of phantoms. There is a book in his room that tells the lore of a vampires and Hutter takes it with him. He does finally get there to meet the creepy looking count. It is soon after he learns he is a vampire and is bitten by him.
Orlok gets his things sent to Wisbourg, which contains coffins filled with dirt, rats and himself. When the ship arrives, they find it empty and they think that the plague has come to their town. Also in town is Professor Bulwer (John Gottowt), who is an expert on vampiric things in nature.
What is really interesting about this version of the tale is that director F.W. Murnau and writer Henrik Galeen did take the most basic idea of Dracula, but actually leave a lot of it out. They cut out two of the main characters from their version. They also take out pretty much of the romance as well. The only thing we really get there is what the book states will kill the vampire. Something I found interesting is that how to kill a vampire, this was the film that started the mythology that sunlight can kill them. The count also cannot make new vampires, so he isn’t out to turn his long lost love, he just needs the blood to survive.
This film clocks in at about an hour and half. It moves actually pretty quickly through everything. I actually think that I wanted a little bit more from the film as we never really get any of the characters fleshed out. We get who everyone is and it moves rapidly through the tale. I don’t necessarily need the love aspect that the films on this story usually have, but even that might have deepened this one a little bit. The ending isn’t bad, it definitely is iconic, but I also don’t feel it was as good as it could be.
Acting in this film is anchored by the amazing performance by Schreck. He makes this film more terrifying than most of the vampire films out there. There is the urban legend that he actually was a real vampire, which no one knew where he was really from and that is the basis of the film Shadow of the Vampire. His look for this film inspired Kurt Barlow in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. He doesn’t get a lot of screen time in this film, but when he does, he commands it. Wangenheim and Greta Schröder were fine as the couple in this film. Schröder has an interesting part to play in that she is having nightmares while Hutter is away. Granach also did well as the servant to Orlok. He also had a creepy look about him.
I don’t really have a lot to say about the effects of the film, as there weren’t a lot used. This was early on in the film making process. We do get the death of Orlok where he kind of disappears. There are also doors that open on their own by Orlok which I thought was fine for the era. The film is also shot very well. This falls under the German Expressionist movement. It isn’t as extreme as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but it still has the aspects of it.
The score of the film is interesting. The first time I saw this film it with a traditional soundtrack of classical style music. I thought that fit the film perfect for what they needed. This time around I watched the Industrial Gothic Remix, which had more of a rock soundtrack. I thought at times this made it even more eerie. There were also times when they stuck to the song they were using, probably for licensing issues and it didn’t always fit. Either score you watch it with definitely adds something to the film, even though they are both entirely different.
Now with that said, I really enjoy this film. It is the first adaptation of Dracula even though they didn’t actually have the rights. It is a condensed version that takes quite a bit of it though. I do think some of that actually hurts the story of this film. I still think it is an interesting look at the past and what people thought when unexplained events happen. The editing of the film did keep the pace up, which I thought they could have slowed it down a bit. Schreck was great as the vampire in this film and the rest of the cast were fine. The film is shot very well, even though I could tell it was shot during the day, when it should have been night. The soundtrack to the film definitely fits depending on which one you choose to view it with. This one rates high due to its historical value as well. This is a really good film in my opinion.
My Rating: 9 out of 10