With the countless Dracula and vampire adaptations, knock offs and tradition decimating bullshit (ie. Twilight), it might seem like movies based around these blood suckers are unavoidable and have been around forever. Well, it turns out they are and they have. Because I just watched Nosferatu, a silent German movie that’s close to a century old. A silent movie that does its best to condense Bram Stoker’s opus into 90 minutes of title filled silence.
Changing a lot of the names, consolidating a few characters and events, and ditching a few more, Nosferatu is still a pretty faithful adaptation of the source novel. Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is a newly wed in need of a few bucks. When the unscrupulous Knock (Alexander Granach) offers him a cash in hand gig setting up a real estate deal, Hutter jumps at the chance. The only problem is, the job means going to the mysterious and spooky Transylvania, dealing with the even more mysterious and spooky Graf Orlok (Max von Schreck).
Before arriving at Orlok’s castle, Hutter spends the night in a nearby village where he finds a book telling the tale of the evil Nosferatu, an immortal monster who lives on human blood. Despite the skittishness of the locals, Hutter laughs off the tall tail and continues on. Almost immediately after meeting Orlok, he starts to take the Nosferatu story a little more seriously. Basically a prisoner under the guise of Orlok’s hospitality, Hutter eventually escapes, on the trail of the already departed Orlok, on his way to his new home in Wisborg. Which just so happens to be over the road from that of Hutter and his wife, Ellen (Greta Schroder).
Back in Wisborg, Ellen’s friend Ruth is acting weird, wandering mindlessly and showing signs of ever weakening health. While Professor Bulwer (John Gottowt) takes his place as the resident vampire killing expert, and Knock is committed to a loony bin where he rants and raves about the coming of ‘The Master’.
Bram Stoker gets credited as the story’s originator in the movie’s opening credits, so I’m not sure why Nosferatu substitutes Orlok for Dracula, Bulwer for Van Helsing and Hutter for Harker (amongst many, many others), but the change of names, combined with the now-foreign look and feel of a 93 year old silent film, all added to the uneasiness of the story, making it one of the more creepily effective adaptations of horror’s most enduring character.
Also, the look of Orlok might be the scariest vampire character design ever made. Trust the German’s to take an already creepy character, and make it just that little bit creepier.
I can’t say Nosferatu scared me in any way. At this stage, the story is too familiar to offer any shocks and the limitations of 20s film making come off as more quaint and charming than terrifying. But Nosferatu did do a great job of putting me on edge, making me just a little not-quite-right, and proving why stories based on this character simply refuse to die… Like the character itself, I guess.