Nosferatu (1922): Visually Stunning But Not a Great Adaptation

Nosferatu

     As we get closer to Halloween I’ll be reviewing more films associated with the holiday (or Day of the Dead as well). We start with “Nosferatu” a film that is visually brilliant but not a great adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’ll go into the reasons why in the assessment.

      The film was directed by F. W. Burnau, produced by Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau and written by Henrik Galeen based of course on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

        The story mirrors Dracula with some characters changed or deleted (No Doctor Van Helsing) but the premise of the hero (in this case Thomas Hutter) is sent by his employer as he is a solicitor to sell the home nearby to Count Orlok. He leaves his wife Ellen behind to make the trip. He travels to Transylvania and people react in fear when he says where he is going. He meets the count and finds himself having nightmares and after the Count signs the contract of ownership over the home he prepares to travel to Wisborg all the while feeding off of Hutter. Hutter is left behind and has to make escape as Orlok heads to his hometown spreading “The Plague” along the way.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The world is lived in, you feel the desperation of the people and the plague feels very real. From bringing plague rats with him, to all the coffins that are in every area…whether Wisborg or Transylvania. You can see how Count Orlok and vampires fit into this world.

The Music – The film is a silent one and the orchestra does an amazing job showing emotions…from Thomas and Ellen’s joy together, to the horror of Orlok. Hans Erdmann did a fantastic job!

Cinematography – The visuals in this film are the best part besides the world and music, which is needed as the characters aren’t all that interesting. There are good uses of shading and shadows, especially when Orlok stalks his prey. This I think is what made Count Orlok such a memorable villain. Fritz Arno Wagner and Gunther Krampf did a good job at creating great visuals.

Count Orlok – Max Schreck plays a very memorable monster, he is both visually scary with his large clawed hands and dark gaunt face and also has a very high body count. He has great power too and gets to Wisborg without needing a crew for the ship as he controls it with magic and Knock is his slave even before he arrives and is the one who is blamed by the townsfolk, keeping Orlok protected from suspicion. It takes a lot to bring him down, which I appreciated.

The Ending – The characters aren’t all that memorable…the couple is young love and you don’t get their motivations, and the Doctors are their simply for exposition and to make comparisons between other predators (venus fly traps, etc.) to Vampires. But in this Ellen saves the day. She lures Count Orlok out and he stays to feed on her leading to his demise as he is up until the dawn and the light kills him. I liked this twist as she was the only character who actually did anything and in Dracula the character she is based off is only there to be rescued.

Okay/Con: The Characters – The best way to describe the characters is one dimensional. They have a single desire and that is it. Knock wants money and later to serve Orlok, Ellen and Hutter want each other, the Doctors just want to study and later just stop the plague and even Orlok just wants blood. The thing is in the end the only active agents are Orlok and Ellen. Ellen figures out how to stop Orlok and Orlok just keeping reeking havoc. This is a pretty big issue as I would have cared more about Ellen’s sacrifice if I’d gotten to know her character more, I would have cared about the townspeople if I’d seen what it was they valued. You don’t really get any of that, which brings the film down.

     This is a classic horror film and it is worth checking out. It is not the best adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula as in the book and some other versions I’ve seen the characters have more than one dimension and I care about what happens to them…not so much for this film. It is worth it though for the music, cinematography and monster design. Count Orlok looks amazing as a monster and I can see why so many shows post this film have called upon his visuals for their monsters.

Final Score: 7 / 10. It was okay.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) – The Fear of the Other

The Lodger

“The Lodger,” is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest works (1927) and is a silent film that captures many of the themes and tropes of his later films. The film takes place in London during a spat of murders of blond haired women by a killer known as The Avenger. The name of the film is because a mysterious man takes up in the house of the main family that the story follows as they are left wondering if he is the murder.

It is based off a story and a co-written play by Marie Belloc Lowndes called “Who is He?” I plan on reading both.

Here is my assessment of the film:

The Pros: The music – Captures the tension beautifully since the is no speaking since this is a silent picture. The only words are shown on the screen or sung in two songs. The music also reminds me of Hitchcock’s later works…he moves between romance, tension, fear and humor so deftly.

The actors – Do a fantastic job. They only have body and face to be there characters and they do it wonderfully. The Lodger is especially creepy but endearing and Daisy is memorable as the heroine(a blond haired one at that, another Hitchcock trope).

The characters – Are interesting, the only one I didn’t like was the detective who kept kitting on Daisy when she clearly wasn’t into him. He kept talking about their relationship when there was clearly none there. The parents are great to as protective and good intentioned…and the Lodger captures the mystery of the unknown Other perfectly.

The story – Is fantastic, the stakes are established early which makes the Lodger’s arrival add mystery…since he doesn’t act like anyone else but is still kind. The mystery of who he really is is fantastic to watch.

SPOILERS

The Ending and Theme – The Lodger is innocent. People connecting the dots of how he was connected to the criminal (his sister was the first victim) is revealed over time and you see why he as difficulty trusting because of it. He in turn isn’t trusted either because of how strange he is leading to a mob trying to kill him until the real killer is caught. Daisy saves him (Hitchcock has some of the best heroes and heroines) and they get together for real.

Okay: Length – It drags a bit at times which is the only thing I can say against it. It could have been faster and still had the same emotional payoff.

This is a fantastic film and one of my favorites (like most of Hitchcock’s work that I’ve watched). The theme of not letting fear rule our actions in regards to others is important. The mob almost kills an innocent man because of that fear and distrust of someone they didn’t even know. This is sadly common and is part of human nature, but a part of human nature we can deal with situation by situation while still being cautious. I love Hitchock’s tropes of the Other, the Heroine and the danger and mystery of human nature (for good and ill), and this film captures that beautifully.

I highly recommend: 9.7 / 10

Not the perfect Hitchcock but one of the best.