Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bald Mountain Night 20: Nosferatu

Each day in October, intrepid blogger Alex Boivin will watch a horror movie. These movies are all new to him and are part of his month-long effort to fill in his gaps in the horror canon. If he doesn't die from fright, you just might get to read about about his exploits in cinema during the Halloween season.

With yesterday's Call of Cthulhu, I was introduced to the realm of the silent horror film, albeit an intentionally retro one from four years ago. My experience with the silent movie is minimal- I've seen a few classics, Metropolis and Un chien andalou to be specific, but I've never been a big follower of the pre-talkie motion picture. Missing from my palette is probably one of the most famous works from the age of the silent film, F.W. Murnau's 1922 vampire flick Nosferatu.

Nosferatu is basically Bram Stoker's Dracula, but since the rights to that story weren't in the public domain then as they are now, names had to be changed, so Count Dracula is "Count Orlock", Jonathan Harker is "Thomas Hutter", Mina is "Ellen", et cetera, et cetera. For those of you somehow still ignorant of the Dracula story, a real estate agent is given the task of helping an eccentric (aren't they all?) Transylvanian nobleman find a house in Lond...excuse me "Wisborg, Germany". Unfortunately for all those involved, the new client turns out to be a vampire and all that entails soon ensues, bloodsucking, the Plague, and all that.

Silent movies are something unique and unto themselves, modern audiences really can't wrap their heads around them: we're too spoiled by modern cinematic techniques like, you know, sound. The fact that there's no sound and therefore minimal dialogue makes the thing feel kind of like a child's picture book, communicating in simple images and on-screen text that lets you know what can't be visually conveyed. The visuals are suitably creepy, Max Schreck as Count Orlock is frightening to say the least and his performance is one of those great iconic horror elements that transcends the film itself, and the duotone imagery (in my Netflix streaming version at least, other releases preserve the black and white) makes the movie look like something halfway between a Smiths album cover and a Game Boy Color screen. In spite of my own contemporary limitations, I was able to enjoy this one and see why it ranks up there with the classics of not only horror but of cinema in general. Very cool.

Final verdict: 62 Congos