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Nosferatu's Impact a Century Later Print E-mail
Written by Liam Stevenson   
Saturday, 26 May 2018
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Nosferatu (1922) - Prana Film

Shadowy, occultish, strange, nightmarish – these are the words that come to mind when you think of German expressionism. The silent film movement is an important turning point in cinema that produced influential works in its time. Without it, names like Alfred Hitchcock may not be as big today, and movies such as Edward Scissorhands or Blade Runner might never have seen the light of day.

And yet, its genesis is a response to a much darker time. The Great War has just ended and Germany is still trying to recover from its harrowing aftermath.
Zimbio speculates that the movement allowed artists and directors to express their anger through film. They were able to conceal their emotions with the heavy use of symbolism in this new artistic genre, contrary to the accurate depiction of bucolic landscapes and still lifes of impressionism.

A perfect example of the expressionism in silent films is the vampire tale Nosferatu. It almost didn’t survive the 1920s because of a copyright infringement lawsuit against the production company, Prana Film, by Bram Stoker’s widow. Even with the characters’ names changed, it was evident that the film was an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula and the court ordered the producers to burn all the copies. All but one were destroyed and that fateful copy already made its international rounds. Prana Film died with the suit, but Nosferatu was able to rise from the dead.

Henrik Galeen’s screenplay begins with the story of an unwitting man, Thomas Hutter, from the fictional town of Wisborg. He is tasked to travel to Transylvania to visit his employer’s client, Count Orlok. The accompanying music is ominous and one can already suspect that horrifying things will unfold on Hutter’s journey. On his way up the mountains, locals dissuade him from traveling through the night because of werewolves on the prowl. It was past midnight when he finally arrives at Count Orlok’s castle.

At first glance, Orlok is a terrifying enigma. He has pale skin, almost translucent, a hunched back, pointed ears, beady eyes, sharp nails, and fangs. In John Badham’s version of Dracula, Severed Cinema noted how the titular character is charismatic, irresistible, and hypnotic in a literal sense. Count Orlok is none of those things. One doesn’t have to guess to understand that the grotesque-looking Orlok represents darkness, disease, and death. In one creepy encounter, Orlok tries to suck Hutter’s wounded thumb and soon he realizes that there’s something out of the ordinary with his host.

Hutter becomes convinced that Orlok is the ‘Bird of Death’ or the Nosferatu. When Orlok tries to make a move on his guest one night, his wife, Ellen, who is all the way in Wisborg, senses that her husband is in danger. This somehow obstructs the vampire from killing Hutter. To add to his terror, he finds out that Orlok slept in a coffin during daytime. He eventually escapes the castle and makes his way back home, but Orlok was already aboard a ship to Wisborg to live in the house he purchased from Hutter.

One interesting deviation of Nosferatu from Stoker’s original narrative is how it tries to conceal the deaths of Orlok’s victims as the plague. A sailor from the ship he was on board opened one of his coffins and unleashed rats that eventually gets them sick and kills them off one by one while Orlok fed on the crewmen, including the captain. After arriving in Wisborg, Orlok’s murderous nature prevails while the entire town is afraid of dying from pestilence.

Ellen, who read a book on vampires, figures that only a pure-hearted woman can distract the vampire so it can be defeated. She tries the book’s claim only to faint after inviting Orlok in. Hutter flees to find help, effectively leaving his wife vulnerable and up for Orlok’s taking. The Nosferatu starts to puncture her jugular with his sharp fangs and becomes so engrossed in drinking her blood that he loses track of time. Sunlight comes and into thin air, Count Orlok perishes like a puff of smoke.

Almost a century has gone by and Nosferatu is still regarded as a masterpiece. The film really is the first successful screen interpretation of Stoker’s Gothic novel which established the vampiric lore as it is known today. It has also brought about countless literary, film, theatrical, and television adaptations. Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is considered a tribute to the literary figure while several other derivatives can be found in almost all forms of entertainment.
Acclaimed gaming platform Foxy Casino is one medium that uses the vampire fantasy theme and adds its own spin to the games Transylvania Mania and Bloodsuckers 2. These games promise the thrill of the lore with elements such as the presence of chilling music, bats, castles, and of course, blood. In other popular culture media, Dracula remains a popular topic for television remakes and parodies and an even more popular choice for Halloween costumes with the plastic fangs and sweeping black cape ever present during the holidays.

Nosferatu wouldn’t have been made if not for Bram Stoker’s Gothic novel. In a way, the controversy was responsible for launching F.W. Murnau’s movie into the international spotlight and what led to its long-lasting legacy as one of cinematic history’s greatest films. There have been attempts at remaking the film, including Warner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre which was also highly acclaimed. In 2015, The Witch director Robert Eggers announced that he would be working on another Nosferatu remake.
IndieWire reported that Anya Taylor-Joy had been cast in the film, although it's not yet confirmed if she would be taking on the role of Ellen. Cinema’s only hope is that any subsequent adaptations of Nosferatu will give the masterpiece justice.

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3.22 Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."

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