Out of each genre that has experimented with it, black and white photography seems to have been used better in horror. And it’s ironic considering that a lot of amateur filmmakers want to make the next big scary movie, and almost all are shot in traditional color. Though simplistic, black and white photography in horror cinema to me is like the ultimate battle of light and darkness. The light representing the good and peace of mankind and the black revealing the darkest of shadows and the true tone of eclipsed mystery. The world’s that are already bleak, suddenly takes a turn when the movie is done in a German Expressionistic style.
Believe it or not, if you’ve seen any Tim Burton film (Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frankenweenie, ect…) then you have an idea what German Expressionism is about; looking at the ideas of madness and insanity in a more visual style. Dark shadows fill with terror and abstract visuals are welcomed. Speaking of Germany, this country has given the world a lot of interesting stories from the dystopian future of Metropolis to the eerie tone of Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. But I’m here today to examine it’s view on vampires in Nosferatu.
This is actually an interesting retelling of Dracula. Apparently, the studio could not obtain the rights to produce the Bram Stocker novel, so they took the same formula, and changed the names in an attempt to make it their own.
It opens with lawyer Thomas Hutter who is being sent to Transylvania to visit a new client named Count Orlok. He bids farewell to his fiancé Ellen and entrusts his friends Harding, and Harding’s sister Annie to look after her. Close to his destination, he comes to an Inn where he is warned by villagers to not go to the Orlok’s castle at night.
He arrives to find Count Orlok (played by Max Schreck) to be a thin, almost terrifying man to look at. He continues his assignment, aside from the strange occurrences from puncture marks on his neck to Orlok almost sucking the blood from his thumb. Orlok signs the documents to buy the house across from Hutter as the lawyer starts to suspect that Orlok may be Nosferatu, “The Bird of Death”. Hutter escapes, but Nosferatu ends up shipping his body out in the seas where he continues to attack each sailor one by one. He eventually reaches Hutter’s town, as the young man must race to save his fiancé.
If a silent movie should be watched around Halloween, then Nosferatu is the best answer. Though not as recognized as the Bela Lugosi Dracula, this vampire story is just as atmospheric and a tad creepier. The German Expressionistic tone only makes the scenario scarier and Max Schreck becomes one with the matching scenery as the chilling Count Orlok. I remember watching this for the first time when I was a freshman in college, and this gave me fighting dreams for two days. I can still see that demonic creature whenever I close my eyes.
As silent movies go, this is one of the best ones (certainly best of the horror silent). I have yet to see the Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera or Hunchback of Notre Dame, so I can’t make too much of a comparison. But I will say that these images are the ones that inspired men like Tim Burton to continue to show new light on this kind of expressionism. It’s played in many film classes for a good reason; it’s the grandfather of horror. Nosferatu probably won’t sway modern movie goers, but this is a must for any fan of horror or Tim Burton
I’ll give this five shadows of Count Orlok out of five. As dark as the castle that it sits in, Nosferatu is a bleak, but beautifully crafted tale of Dracula is in the National Film Registry for a reason. See why this old film is worth preserving.