The Oscar Project
It turns out I was wrong when I posted my pick for this week a few days ago. I mentioned having seen this before in college, but I think I had it confused with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari since this film was not the crazy German expressionist work I remembered. That said, I truly enjoyed it and was quite impressed by some of the things it achieved in the time it was made.
The film unofficially (and without authorization) adapts Bram Stoker’s classic story of Dracula, with some changes to character names and locations. These minor changes were not enough to prevent Stoker’s heirs from suing over the adaptation which led to a court ruling that al copies of the film be destroyed. Thankfully for us today, some prints survived and the film is readily available today for free online or through a multitude of different DVD and Blu-ray releases.
The story is quite simple. I real estate agent by the name of Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is sent by his boss Knock (Alexander Granach) to visit the mysterious Count Orlock (Max Schreck) who plans to purchase a house in their town. Hutter’s travels to Orlock’s castle lead him through some foreboding areas including a town near the castle where the mere mention of Orlock’s name evokes fear among the locals.
Upon reaching the castle, Hutter is welcomed with a feast. While he eats, he cuts his thumb and Orlock tries to suck on the blood. Hutter wakes the next day with what he thinks are two mosquito bites on his neck. That evening, Hutter and Orlock go over the paperwork for purchasing the house (which happens to be directly across the street from Hutter’s own home) and upon seeing a picture of Hutter’s wife, Orlock remarks that she has a “lovely neck.” Hutter begins to suspect that Orlock is a vampire, and his suspicions are confirmed when he finds Orlock resting in a coffin the next day.
The story here is one of fear of the unknown or the “other.” Some scholars believe this to be antisemitic in nature, especially given the time and place (post WWI Germany) of its creation. There may be a slight subtext along these lines, but I didn’t detect anything in my own viewing. What I did notice was a fear of something new and dangerous that sent people fleeing to their homes. This hit home that much harder after the events of 2020, when we all lived with the “plague” of Covid-19 and were sent to our homes, just as the mayor of the town does in Nosferatu.
There is also a minor theme of self-sacrifice at the end of the film. Hutter’s wife realizes she can end the suffering of others in the town by sacrificing herself. She also knows that her husband will never let her do it while he’s around, so she shrewdly sends him away to look for a doctor, knowing that Orlock will take advantage of his absence to come for her.
Now, a few weeks ago I wrote extensively on the silent film The Birth of a Nation and despite the technical achievements of the film, I wasn’t able to identify much in the way of redeeming qualities. This on the other hand, does have plenty to recommend it, even if it may not have made as many technical leaps forward.
In putting together my own rating for the film (8 out of 10) I landed on a few elements that I thought were brilliantly executed. There aren’t many special effects in the film, but enough to be noticeable in certain parts. With Orlock appearing and/or disappearing out of thin air at various times, the use of multiple exposures was prominent and well done. There are also a few instances where very simple stop motion is used to make doors open without anyone appearing to touch them. These are not nearly as fluid as you might see in something made today like Kubo and the Two Strings or Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, but for 100 year ago, they are effective.
I was also struck by the music for the film. I’m not sure if the music on the version I watched was the original music intended for the film, but it was an incredibly effective organ accompaniment that helped telegraph important story moments as they happened.
The acting was well performed throughout and for the most part not over acted like many silent films of the era. There were a few corny moments near the end, but for the most part, the action was performed naturally. The other technical elements were well done, from the production design of the town and castle to the period costumes and the great makeup on Orlock’s head and hands. Altogether these combine to form a very strong piece of film and something any true movie lover should watch at least once.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?