Hey! Remember when I was on the show? It was such great fun. Unfortunately, last week I was puppy sitting and unable to Skype in my part of the show because the little fuckers wouldn’t stop barking. So I’m going to force my views on Nosferatu on you now!
(Get ready for the complaining after the jump)
Believe it or not, our society is so used to turning off our brains and watching a story being told with words in a concise, clear way. So to watch a silent story is somewhat of a challenge using a modern brain. However, the story is not one unfamiliar to us, so it made it a bit easier to follow. It’s a version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with the characters and settings changed up a bit. It is the story of Count Orlock, a Transylvanian noblemen/vampire, who is looking to purchase a German home from the greedy realtor, Knock. Knock sends his agent, Hutter, to broker the deal, and sell Orlock a house directly across from his own (Hutter’s own that is.)
Of course when he gets to Transylvania, all the townsfolk warn him against going to the castle. But not that, nor the foreboding book he finds about Nosferatu “Of Vampires, Terrible Ghosts, Magic and the Seven Deadly Sins” deter him from making that commission. So he goes to Count Orlock’s place and discovers (gasp) Count Orlock is more than just a Translyvanian nobleman! He is a hideous vampire! But he’s already closed the deal and made the sale! And now Count Orlock is stalking him! What a turn of events!
Hutter gets away, returns home and Orlock sends his coffins across the sea to Germany. Then there’s a weird scene where an old guy feeds flies to a plant and plays with a hydra, I think. Next thing you know, Knock is a fly-eating Lunatic for some reason. It stays a bit disjointed for a while. Hutter’s wife, Ellen, misses her husband, Hutter heads home, there’s a boat where all the sailors die of some epidemic (I think the implication is that Orlock did it), a box of rats, a plague scare and Knock is creepy and psychotic. Finally, Hutter arrives home and shortly after, so does Orlock. Knock escapes the asylum and rushes to Orlock’s side, cause he is in his thrall somehow.
Anyway, after Orlock’s arrival, the entire town goes to shit and people start getting sick, dying and going nuts. The whole town assumes that it is the work of a vampire and that Knock is the vampire. There’s a chase scene that goes nowhere and then Orlock oggles Ellen for a while. She starts fainting and sends Hutter to get Prof. Bulwer (the old guy with the flies). While Hutter is off finding Bulwer, Orlock bites Ellen and Knock is recaptured. Too bad for Orlock it was daylight savings time. The sun comes up and Orlock is vaporized. Then everyone is okay, and that is sort of it.
Now, I might have gotten some of these details wrong because it was very hard to follow and kind of disjointed. At the time, it was received as a critical smash hit and continues to be a cult success through today. As to whether or not this film has held up and translates well today? In a word, no. And this isn’t to say it wasn’t a quality film, and that it wasn’t enjoyable at times. However, I don’t think the modern brain is built to take a melodramatic, silent film seriously. There was a lot of creepy shit, yes, and Murnau did good work (I think, I’m not sure), but between the minimalistic and cheesy dialogue, and what now seems like a cliche (I know it wasn’t at the time) to a modern audience with a modern brain it seems hokey and somewhat boring. That being said, it did the best it could for a silent film from that time. Max Schreck is terrifying as Orlock, the score is creepy and intense and there is enough suspense to make me understand why this film had such an impact on nerd culture.
Said impact on nerd culture is fairly obvious from the litany of vampire stories we love. Vampyre: The Masquerade, Anne Rice’s stories and…shiver…Twilight, to name a few. The Nosferatu image is the inspiration for a vampyre type in the White Wolf game. And I believe the iconic image of Nosferatu dying made it into an episode of Spongebob. It brought the word Nosferatu (a word originated in Stoker’s novel as another word for undead) into pop culture as an alternative to vampire. It also made it so that Stoker’s version of the vampire story was not the only one that existed. If it wasn’t for a certain Mormon lady, I would be thankful for that fact.