Director: F.W. Murnau
Writer: Henrik Galeen (Screenplay), Bram Stoker (Novel)
Starring: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach, Georg H. Schnell, Ruth Landshoff, John Gottowt, Gustav Botz
I've said it before and I will probably say it again but one of the things I love about living in Washington D.C. is the number of great movies that I get a chance to see on the big screen. Every year around Halloween the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD has a showing of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922). What makes this show really awesome though, is that it is done with live musical accompaniment performed by Silent Orchestra.
Now I really want to sing the praises of Silent Orchestra because they provided an amazing musical score but I want to start with my feelings on the film. I promise to tell you all about the musical score (and where you can listen to it) by the end of the review. Trust me, I would never leave my loyal readers hanging.
By today's standards Nosferatu (1922) is not really what you would call a "scary" film (If Shaw Girl can sit through it then it isn't scary, love you babe). However, the film does have a rather haunting atmosphere and the character of Count Orlok is sufficiently creepy. In this film F.W. Murnau managed to create a number of scenes that have been seared into film history as some of the earliest (and eeriest) images of horror put on film. The parts in the film where the audience is just shown the shadow of Orlok are just amazing. The image of his shadow climbing the stairs and the opening the door to Ellen's room is one most memorable images from era of German Expressionism. The way the shadow makes his limbs look even longer than they normally appear in the film give that moment such a disorienting feeling.
The story itself (an unauthorized adaption of Bram Stoker's Dracula) is very well told although a bit different than the source material. It is obviously shortened to fit into the length of the film but the essence of the story is still there. The characters, although a bit over the top at points, are portrayed well and for the most part faithful the to story. Even if in some instances multiple characters are combined into one or removed altogether for the sake of timing. The character of Van Helsing (Professor Bulwer in this version) does seem a bit less important in this version of the story than in others though.
The character of Count Orlok is quite a different vampire than what a modern audience is probably used to. Count Orlok has a very demon like appearance in this film. To be perfectly blunt, he is rather ugly. He has long fingers with sharp nails. He has a bald head with pointed nose, ears and chin. He is not the handsome, suave Dracula that has been portrayed in later incarnations of the character. While I also love Bela Lugosi's version of Dracula I think that Max Shreck does an amazing job creating a very memorable and scary version of the character.
Now, as promised, I have to talk about the amazing musical score that was provided live by Silent Orchestra. They manage to create a musical score that not only fits well with the film but also works for the time period in which the film would have been shown. They provide so much more than your typical piano score that is heard with most silent films. They embellish the score with sounds that probably would not have been used when the film was first played in the 1920s, however these sounds do not feel out of place at all (Not at all like the time I saw Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928) and the musical accompaniment consisted of Beatles tunes). Everything about the score works perfectly with the film and being able to hear it live is an amazing way to see the film.
If you would like to hear the score that Silent Orchestra provided it can be found on the Image Entertainment DVD of Nosferatu. I highly recommend picking up the DVD if you are a fan of the film. However, if you are in the Washington D.C. area then you should check out the show that the AFI Silver Theater does every Halloween. You'll have to wait until next year for that but now that you know about it you have no excuse not to go. (By the way, I swear I am not a shill for the AFI. I just love seeing movies at that theater and I think everyone should experience it.)