Thursday, 11 June 2015
Unable to secure the rights to film an adaptation of Bram Stoker's famous novel, the makers of this movie simply changed a few names - 'vampire' to 'Nosferatu', 'Dracula' to 'Orlok' - and hoped they'd get away with it.
It didn't work, and a court issue was ordered in its native Germany that all prints of the film were to be destroyed. And that would have been the end of it, except that fortunately one copy of the film had already been sent overseas, and therefore survived. Nosferatu has gone on to be regarded as a great example of Expressionist film, and a classic horror film.
Now of course by modern standards the film is unlikely to seem very frightening. It is ninety years old after all, with the stylistic, technological and content limitations that this implies. Many versions of the film also have less than ideal soundtracks, which can also have a very negative impact on the film's effectiveness.
But when watched with the a soundtrack that supports the film rather than detracts from it (this version on youtube seems like one of the better ones), the movie develops and maintains an eerie, creepy atmosphere. There's great use of shadow, some clever if inevitably low-tech effects work, and a memorably macabre villain at the heart of it all.
Here, Orlok/Dracula (some versions of the film now use the latter name, including the one I have) is not the suave and sensual figure you might be used to, but a rat-like and cadaverous creature, as corrupt physically as spiritually, though possessed of great power for all that.
The basic plot outline of the film is of course likely to be familiar to anyone watching it, as it follows closely to Stoker's novel for much of its length. But familiarity with Stoker's story hasn't prevented people from watching adaptations of Dracula before, and it shouldn't in this case, either.
Nosferatu is worth seeing not just as an important film in cinematic history, but also as a accomplished and skillful piece of film-making in its own right. If you have any interest in the art of film-making, then you should see it.