Saturday, January 17, 2015

Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror

Being used to modern day movies that contain almost non-stop dialogue with many characters even talking to themselves in scenes where they find themselves alone, it takes a few minutes to get accustomed to the silent movie experience. However, the great thing about silent films is that in order to follow the story the viewer must actually give the movie the full attention that it deserves. You can't just use it for white noise or the illusion of company when you're lonesome and the house is too quiet. There aren't even lyrics in the musical accompaniment that creates the mood and tone of the film. 

In Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror, directed by the wonderfully talented German Expressionist, F. W. Murnau, the imagery was striking in places that affected me as the audience but didn't seem to have any effect on the optimistic main character, Hutter, who when arriving at the estate of Nosfeartu was in complete denial over the creepy events and circumstances of the area. He laughed at the villagers who warned him not to go to Nosferatu's castle, then was annoyed when the carriage drivers refused to cross the border of Nosferatu's property and abandoned him out in the middle of nowhere to finish his journey to the castle alone on foot. 

In fast motion, Nosferatu's carriage descended from the decaying castle from above shrouded in black, horses and all, like a hearse from hell with what looked like the grim reaper holding the reigns, or was it Nosferatu himself? I thought it was, but the late celebrated film critic, Roger Ebert, refers to him as a servant. Hutter only seems slightly apprehensive as he climbs into the carriage, then we see the fast motion ascent of the creepy carriage absconding with its innocent prey. It left a cold stone of fear in the pit of my stomach like seeing a pedophile successfully lure a trusting little victim into his windowless vehicle with the inside door handles removed. 

Speaking of predatory pedophiles, I wondered what was up with the lascivious-looking Knock, Hutter's boss! He was described as a strange mysterious man, but he just seemed like a greedy pervert to me until later in the movie where it becomes clear that he's Nosferatu's minion. Before that revelation, I thought he must just be lustful for money since he was so enthusiastic about sending Hutter to close the big real estate deal with Nosferatu. 

The symphony really set the mood for suspense and was at its coolest use as Hutter rushed home to his beloved Ellen in a desperate attempt to get to her before Nosferatu's arrival by sea. There was a great use of imagery in the scene of Ellen sitting on the bench in the cemetery by the sea longing for the return of Hutter. The wind in her hair and the crosses that surround her in the sand represented a cool contrast of the thin line between life and death, or death as part of life or death as the end of life or all of the above.

Once Nosferatu is moved into his new lair across the street from Ellen Hutter, whose neck he is lusting after ever since seeing her photo fall from Hutter's travel bag during his stay at his castle, he is shown staring at her house from a glassless but still paned window. In the 1960s gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, vampire Barnabus Collins was shown in this same stance (only his window had glass) many times while fulfilling his passionate plans to make Maggie Evans his replacement for his beloved long dead Josette. I'm sure so many images and ideas from the movie were used in all sorts of entertainment since the release of Nosferatu that it would be almost impossible to document all of them. Even an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants, I believe it was "Graveyard Shift" where Count Orlok is seen flipping the light switch on and off. 

Nosferatu is considered the premier vampire movie and all subsequent vampire movies seem to expand on Mernau's work. Obviously, the Count has become more of a sexual being than the original Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mernau's film version that is based on Stoker's novel as the Count is depicted as a hideous rodent-like creature. However, I found the scene depicting Ellen's decision to sacrifice her life to destroy the vampire where she throws open her bedroom window and surrenders her body on the bed extremely sexual as it follows the aforementioned scene where the Count is almost drooling over Ellen from his glassless window across the street. His shadow enters her room and travels up the length of her surrendered body until completely consuming the light as he prepares to consume her blood. While he greedily sucks on her neck he hears the rooster crow and pausing for a moment finds it impossible to pull himself away from her and after centuries of careful survival, recklessly sacrifices his life, not to save others like Ellen, but to satisfy his own lust for the blood of the virtuous and beautiful Ellen.

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