Cards on the table, watching a feature length black and white silent movie is never a particularly enticing proposition.
Having said that, F.W. Murnau’s non-more-important movie Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (to give it its full title) is surprisingly easy to watch. That sounds damning with faint praise, but given that its more genuinely enjoyable than many modern releases, and that’s with the crushing weight of time against it, it’s really not.
Perhaps it’s because even without the sound, the moving camera, the film quality and the many other accoutrements of later films, you’re very aware that its creativity has never been bettered. Actor Max Schreck and the make-up team make the vampire Count Orlok a creepily inhuman human. There’s never been, and perhaps never will be, a more iconic vampire than Count Orlok, and Schreck’s rigor mortis body language and expressions set the template for almost every movie monster to come. Its incredible that Count Orlok surpasses even Bela Lugosi’s interpretation of (basically) the same character, despite contradicting most of the popular vampire mythos: he’s not sexy, he’s not charismatic, he’s not even got a depth of character – he’s simply an empty vessel of death.
This is why he’s such a potent character. The atmosphere is thick with doom; intentional or not, the film stock even looks infected with a sickness. Orlok’s presence and the deaths it brings are mistaken for the plague, and his hollow character makes him the perfect analogy for the merciless disease.
Its not exactly settling down for a slasher-thon, but the hardened horror nerd seriously needs to see Nosferatu.
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If you’d like to hear more about Nosferatu and the classic silent horrors, you can listen to RJ Bayley on The Digital Fix Horrorthon podcast.