Normally when you judge an old movie against the test of time you are often comparing the films fashions, pacing, context and acting against modern standard, however, what if the movie had encapsulated the very essence of what it was so flawlessly that it couldn’t be filmed any other way, regardless of time? ‘Nosferatu’, lovingly restored as part of Eureka’s! ‘Masters of Cinema’ line, is possibly the most mesmerising and authentic rendition of the Dracula story ever put to film. Its genuine period setting, creepy photographic style of filming and a haunting score makes this movie the sheer essence of the gothic horror which has become copied and clichéd over the years, but in many ways has never been told better.
Silent and foreboding, Murnau creates and atmosphere and rhythmic tempo in the movie as fantastical as the Vampyr creature itself. For those who are unaware Murnau’s cinematic rendering ‘Nosferatu’ is an unofficial rendition of Stoker’s Dracula; so unofficial in fact that at the time of its release the company was sued, and all copies of the film destroyed. Thankfully one print remained. In this version we see Dracula replaced by Count Orlok, and Whitby/London replaced with the town of Wisborg in Germany, but a similar story to that of the traditional ‘Bram Stoker’ version ensures. If you don’t know it then please count yourself privileged and see the movie from an even more fortunate position having it told as pure as it could possibly be – although admittedly Coppola’s version is more true to the book.
Orklok wishes to expand and purchase a home away from Transylvania. When visited by his estate agent the count gets a glimpse of the agent’s wife; from then on he become fixated with her and with haste moves to be by her side. What happens then, is, as Coppola’s 1992 version gives as a tagline, is one of the most tragic love stories ever told.
With less emphasis on the love story aspect than the aforementioned ‘Dracula’, Marnau works hard to ensure that his story is on the element of the story that no doubt captivated and terrorised audiences of the time; the vampire itself. With a clever use of sets he shows everything normal and non-undead in a quirky expressionist style. Sets are vibrant - obviously not in colour – but in life, a stark contrast to the baron and murky lands of Transylvania where the Count lives. Even as he travels to the known world, death follows him, as do the changes to the sets. The mortal characters are flamboyant and full of life, whereas Orlock is portrayed as a looming presence, who exists rather than lives. The use of shadows, the subtle exuberance of dread, and its effect on those around him, only furthers to extend the counts influence well beyond the realms of his physical presence. It might not be frightening by todays shock tactic standards, but it’s definitely creepy, and the now famous scenes, the vertical rise from his coffin, the shadowy, stalk like limbs reaching well beyond the grasp of the count, and his apparitions in doorways, all give you the shivers in the way the creature should. The stories literary elements are provided in German, with English subs to allow us to track what happens between key scenes.
All of the above is supported by a completely instrumental score, again remastered and delivered in pristine 5.1 surround sound. The sound is as bombastic as it is eerie, and whilst I am unsure of when this soundtrack was added to support the movie, it does so with great effect.
It sounds quite ridiculous, but this movie, filmed over 100 years ago, has managed to create the most flawless and authentic rendition of the vampire legend put to film, a persona and style which has become nothing more than a replicated cliché of over the last century. For those of you living in the UK, I dare you to visit Whitby and put any other of the Dracula characters in that ruined abbey perched on the edge of the cliff. Eureka’s! release is an amalgamation from 3 credible sources, making this somewhat the definitive experience; and if you are in the market, I can strongly recommend the beautifully illustrated steel book available upon release.