#210 & #211 Nosferatu

(1922, F.W. Murnau & 1979, Werner Herzog)

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens

Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht

Nosferatu is possibly one of the most famous silent movies ever made, and a massive influence on horror films for years to come. Essentially a name-swapped unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu is one of the earliest vampire movies and certainly the most influential. But how many people are aware that it received a remake in 1979 by the equally German director Werner Herzog? Well, today we’re going to look at both and see how well they hold up.

Both films follow the story of Dracula to a tee, with a man named Jonathan Harker Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangeheim/Bruno Gans) receiving word that a man from Translyvania wishes to buy a property in their small town. He ventures to Transylvania, where he is met with fear from the villagers when he says he wishes to visit the mansion. At the mansion, he meets Count Dracula Orlok (Max Shreck/Klaus Kinsi), a strange-looking man who sleeps during the day and lives by night. However, once the deal is done, a reign of terror falls on our hero’s peaceful town when the curse of the vampire takes over.

Basically, exactly what you’d expect from a vampire movie that doesn’t involve teenagers and sparkling. Both are pretty standard stories and don’t really hold many surprises today. But they are mildly entertaining.

A Symphony Of Terror shows its age rather considerably. The effects are as ropey as you’d expect from a movie from 1922, and some are downright laughable now. The horseman that takes the protagonist to the castle is animated using very ropey stop-motion, and Orlok’s makeup makes him look completely ridiculous. By contrast, the remake uses a normal (but mysterious) horseman and Dracula is genuinely unnerving to look at.

But even then, the remake does have a few issues of its own, thanks to its attempt to make the movie “arty”. This results in some bizarre shots of the sky among other things because…because Herzog had a camera and felt that he could use it? I’m not sure.

That said, both movies do manage to keep a very consistent spooky atmosphere throughout. Neither of them are particularly scary, but they are atmospheric, and that’s what matters. The silent movie aims for bizarre Expressionist sets and quirky character movements while the remake uses plague analogies and an antagonist who is outright off.

In fact, Klaus Kinski’s vampire character was the remake’s greatest strength. He didn’t look nearly as cartoonish as the original movie, and was portrayed as a tortured soul who didn’t want to prey on people but was compelled to. He also felt a lot more subdued in his performance than the original, and that helped to make the character feel like someone you really would not want to be around.

The original movie’s strength probably lies in its general atmosphere, which feels more effective than the remake overall. There were times when the quality of the remake made it feel like a student project filmed on a shoestring budget while the original felt like peering into a strange otherworld. The vampire may have looked silly, but the vibe overall worked.

Where both versions of Nosferatu suffered, however, was in their pacing. Around the time Orlok/Dracula climbs into his coffin and smuggles himself aboard a ship, both movies just stall. Also, he’s supposed to be leading a reign of terror, but this is never presented very well. In the original we seem to see him spending time throwing shadow puppets from his mansion window and skulking around with a coffin, while the remake hastily says that he brought the plague to the town via the largest funeral procession on earth.

The music was a pretty low point in both movies. Whoever composed the score to the version of the original I watched needs to learn the difference between “spooky vampire on the hunt” and “comical vampire visits the fair”, since Orlok’s “theme” seemed to be closer to the latter, and this kind of took away from the atmosphere. In the remake, however, there were about three compositions making up the entire score, and they were repeated ad nauseum.

Neither film was particularly great. They were both decent examples of a well-trodden story, and it’s hard to deny the influence of the original, but overall both movies feel far too slow for their purpose and very dated now. Worth a watch for historical value, but there are better vampire movies out there these days.

(Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens / Nosferatu, A Symphony Of Terror)
Starring Max Shreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schroder, Alexander Granach, Ruth Landshoff & Wolfgang Heinz
Written by Bram Stoker (novel – Dracula) and Henrik Galeen
Produced by Enrico Dieckmann & Albin Grau
Music by Hans Erdmann
Cinematography by Fritz Arno Wagner & Gunther Krampf

(Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht / Nosferatu The Vampyre)
Starring Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani & Bruno Gans
Written by Bram Stoker (novel – Dracula) and Werner Herzog
Produced by Michael Gruskoff, Werner Herzog, Walter Saxer & Daniel Toscan du Plantier
Music by Popol Vuh
Cinematography by Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein
Edited by Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus

Favourite Scene: In both, the first meeting with Dracula/Orlok is always pretty spooky, especially in the remake.
Scene That Bugged Me: Anything involving the boat, because that’s usually where the movies came to a halt.

Watch it if: You’re a vampire movie completionist
Avoid it if: You’re already aware that actual Dracula movies exist

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Posted on August 20, 2013, in 1920s, 1970s, Germany, Horror and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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