31 Horrifying Day- Day 10: Nosferatu (1922)

Remember when vampires were scary?

If you were born after Lost Boys (1987) came out… probably not. Aside from a sprinkling here and there: Recently, vampires are tortured love interests (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, Twilight, “TrueBlood”), action heroes (Blade, Underworld) or humans with strange dietary preferences (again “TrueBlood”, NBC’s recently cancelled “Dracula”), or as victims of a mutation (“V Wars”) with a political agenda (again “TrueBlood”). I miss vampires being ugly as sin, the most recent noteworthy example of vampires done ghoulishly in 30 Days of Night. 

The reason I bring up 2007’s 30 Days of Night, is because it really added something to the vampire lore as a whole. Southern Vampires make no sense. They didn’t make sense when Anne Rice did it, they did’t make sense when Charlaine Harris did it, they don’t make sense when Laurell K Hamilton does it, they don’t make sense in Forsaken. #1, It’s hot. You have corpses in the sun. #2, the days are too short. 30 Days of Night has vampires taking over an Alaskan town where they will rain terror down on anyone who didn’t get out of there for a damn month without needing to go hide in their coffins. Steve Niles wrote the original comic book miniseries that they movie was based off of and the illustration by Ben Templesmith, the movie stayed true in style to the original source.

Nosferatu is an adaptation of the novel Dracula. A wealthy castle owner is looking to move from Transylvania and needs a man to help with his affairs. The man slowly realizes that something is amiss but not before his wife becomes captivated by the creature of darkness and a chaotic whirlwind of death starts spreading. I know what you’re thinking, “If I’ve seen this done before -AND seen it with special effects, gore, good looking actors and WORDS- why should I see Nosferatu?” 

Vampire legends were created to explain mysterious plagues that cropped up in Europe and the US (actually, the states tended to blame witches, but that’s a whole ‘nother article). Nosferatu/Graf Orlok slowly affects his victims, causing delirium and malaise before fully consuming his victims. There are many references to plagues in this film, and Orlok travelled to Germany with coffins full of grave dirt, he drew strength from the cursed soil that he had been buried in. That makes far more sense than “modern” style vampires who choose to sleep in coffins. But adding to the plague references, Orlock’s coffins, when opened by the sailors who are transporting them to Germany, also unleash a swarm of rats. It really ramps up the creep factor, add that in that rats are known plague carriers who are inhabiting cursed soil? It’s clever. Of course most vampire films don’t reference the plague folklore any longer and instead the take on more current phenomena and explain violent unsolved murders; NBC’s “Dracula” and the brand new “Penny Dreadful” both reference Jack the Ripper, or STDs; Forsaken. 

But I like the grave dirt as a source of strength. I like the swarms of bugs and rats. I like that Orlok’s very shadow is menacing. 

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I love this movie. The acting is very theatrical. Movements are exaggerated because they had to be in the silent era. Max Shreck as Orlok is creepy, motions exaggeratedly stiff (like a corpse in rigor mortis), pointed ears and claws, wild facial expressions, because subtlety wouldn’t have shown through on film with the available resources of the era. Director FW Murnau made menace out of lights, shadows and small animals that most directors can’t replicate with CGI, expensive materials and modern camera techniques. Orlok appearing from out of shadows, while those around him fall ill and lose their wits is fascinating.

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And I love it. #ResurrectUglyVampires

Was it scary? Let’s face it. It’s based on Dracula, which wasn’t scary. But it was written to be captivating, which this film is. But it’s based on Dracula and we have all been down this road before. So, no, it’s not *scary*.

But I give it 5/5

5 thoughts on “31 Horrifying Day- Day 10: Nosferatu (1922)

  1. Another interesting tidbit about this movie is that it was made without permission, and was ordered destroyed and banned for years. It was thought lost for decades, but after Dracula became public domain, this movie started popping up again (no longer illegal to distribute).

    They also sort-of remade it in 1977. I haven’t watched either version yet, but I plan to watch both sometime this year.

  2. I like this film for very similar reason, Max Shreck is superb as Orlok, he looks so creepy and the way he moves is very unsettling. This film is filled with so many iconic scenes, a horror classic!

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