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Nosferatu

Starring Max Schreck and Gustav von Wagenhelm
Screenplay by Henrik Balean
From the novel "Dracula" by Bram Stoker
Directed by F.W. Murnau
Website: www.thecoven.org/nosferat.htm

IN SHORT: One of five legends of the Silver Age . . .

. . . the other four being Charlie Chaplin's The Goldrush, D.W. Griffith's pair, Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, and Fritz Lang's Metropolis. One of the benefits of video is that these earliest film works, which would otherwise be lost to physical decomposition, are saved. The flip side is that, with the lure of public domain dollars, modern producers feel compelled to mess with a classic as was the case with the reissue of Metropolis a couple of years ago. If you get your hands on a copy of that hideous excuse for a video, reset your television to black and white and turn the sound off, to shut out the electronic score that was tacked on.

That's not the case with Nosferatu, which has a easily forgettable goth rock score Type O Negative tacked on -- not easily erasing memories of Blue Oyster Cult's Nosferatu, which lifted lyric lines directly from the interlinear narration. Sorry, I'm an old fart. I remember those 70s rock songs like they were yesterday.

This reissue of Nosferatu, in a digitally remastered (that means they copied the film into a computer to make the dub masters) but not fully restored version holds up surprisingly well, given the fact that F.W. Murnau shot the film over 75 years ago. The names of the characters were changed to legally protect the filmmakers from the legal arm of Bram Stoker, but the story is pretty much the Dracula you've read or seen on the screen. The setting is the German town of Bremen, in the Year of our Lord 1838. Real Estate clerk Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wagenhelm) goes off to Transylvania to sell some run down a run down Bremen mansion to a mysterious Count Orlock (Max Schreck). Orlock only comes out at night, exhibits strange mental powers and leaves Hutter a quivering, emotional wreck. Half a continent away, his wife Ellen (uncredited) has fallen ill and walks the night in a stuporous state. His boss turns into a raving lunatic, and a cargo ship pulls into port without a living soul on board.

The effects in Nosferatu are nothing like we're used to in the 90s, but the film student inside us all (sorry, folks) can only marvel at the inventive use of stop motion, solarization and invisible wires pulling doors shut that marked almost state of the art in 1922. The standout is Schreck, as the truly monstrous vampire, a literal bald scarecrow with claws. Bela Lugosi may have set the style in the 30s but Schreck and Murnau go for the scare in the story. You'll never see a fang pierce a throat, that wouldn't happen for years, yet the use of Murnau's use of shadows and Schreck's bulging eyes probably scared the hell out of audiences that had never seen anything like it before.

Nosferatu is not considered a classic because it was the first of its kind. It is a classic because it was a well told story, for what silent films allowed, as well as being the first of its genre. There are a couple of stretches as far as what Nosferatu the vampire can do and how he does it; consider the movie a tale of love and a mystic connection between two people that spans hundreds of miles and you'll get through it.

After the final credits, you get a bonus music video. Oh joy.

Visually, the film is what it is, old. There's noticeable fading of images, but nothing so serious that you can't enjoy the flick. This version includes an introduction by actor David Carradine, who should lose the Kung Fu sword clutched in his left hand, explaining why Nosferatu is important. It is that, but you shouldn't be told. So I apologize for writing like a film student. This is one of the great flicks of the earliest days and it was made to be enjoyed. And that's what you can do, enjoy it.

No dollar rating for this one, folks, it's out on video. Spend the cash.


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