The first entry in a long line of vampire films!
Written By: Henrik Galeen
Directed By: F.W. Murnau
Those looking for a modern horror film anywhere within Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens will be out of luck. It has some horror elements, but it’s more of a take on atmosphere and sexuality than on true horror. Of course I am speaking from a 2009 perspective, and it is more than likely, and probably the case, that in 1922 this was as much of a horror movie as say, [Rec] is today. But, I can’t transport myself back to 1922 and view it with eyes that have not borne witness to countless horror tales from cinema, TV, books and comics over the years. None of the above means that Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens is a bad film, only that I didn’t view it as a horror film, but as something else.
F.W. Murnau does a splendid job of creating atmosphere throughout Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens. There is an appealing aesthetic to the film, the way that it is grainy and that it is a series of static shots. But, Murnau does some interesting things with his camera, even though I know every shot is a constant one where the camera can’t move, he gives the illusion of movement on more than one occasion. Murnau uses framing to great effect, the scenes with Orlok peering over Ellen are framed to perfection, with spacing showing the distance between them initially, Orlok’s creepy displacement in a corner and finally they take the center of the frame as they come together for what Orlok feels will be his great conquest. Even though Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens predates the noir movement, there are moments when it feels very much like a noir film. The obvious examples would be the use of Orlok’s shadow as he approaches up the stairwell or when he reaches in to take Ellen’s heart as his own. But, the shadows are used just as effectively throughout the rest of the film. I can also say that the music added to the film for me, but there are so many different scores that one can listen to for the film that no matter what you should be able to find a musical arrangement that suits your tastes.
Before I get into the meat of what I loved about Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens, there were a few things that seemed misplaced or didn’t quite work. The use of fast motion wasn’t a problem for me except for in the scene when Orlok’s coffins are being loaded onto the carriage. I don’t know why, but the fast motion effect actually turned me away from that scene. Most of all, the character of Professor Bulwer was superfluous. With the ending that Murnau went with, Bulwer is not crucial to the story and the movie could function just as well without him. That would mean losing the killer Venus Flytrap allegorical scene, but that’s a small price to pay for a necessary character cut to the film.
The most intriguing angle of Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens was the erotic nature of the story. Orlok is disgusting, no one should be attracted to him, yet they are. He seduces Hutter, Ellen and Knock with ease. It’s is an intriguing irony that someone so vile and repulsive is capable of attracting people in such a sexual manner. However, the question that makes Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens into a deeper film is whether that is such an ironic scenario? I found it more allegorical than ironic. The age old take on sex being bad and purity overcoming sexual desire and wanton lust. But, purity in this case isn’t Ellen, but rather Hutter. Ellen is the epitome of Victorian era sexuality, the woman who looks virtuous but secretly desires the abhorrent act of sex. Representing sex is the ugliest creature imaginable, Orlok. Ellen gives herself up to Orlok and while outwardly it is presented as her way of slaying the beast, in an allegorical sense she succumbs to her wanton desire and the end result is her death and once she is gone the sexual desire that enrapture her is burned up by the purifying fire of the sun. Hutter factors into this as the only one out of Orlok’s three hopeful conquests who resists him. His virtue and purity is tied into the fire of the sun in that he is alive and well, while the two who fully gave in to their sexuality are dead. Maybe it’s way out there and I’m sure not everyone, maybe even no one else, took the story the same way I did, but such is film.
I really did like Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens, but don’t mistake it as a modern horror film. It has a classical sensibility about it, while at the same time presenting a take on the Dracula mythos that I could get behind. I know that silent films aren’t for everyone, but this is a film that everyone should see at least once to see just what greatness was being achieved in the silent era. There are other silents that show just how great the style was, but Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens does so while also tackling a popular subject matter. Vampires will always be a part of cinema and Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens is an important part of the vampires history in cinema.