Murnau's Version of the Dracula Story
"Your wife has a beautiful neck," says the Count to the man who has brought him some real estate documents in F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922), the earliest important screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. Murnau's version of the story is an allegorical tale about a love triangle formed by a young married couple and a vampire. The movie isn't scary in a panic-inducing sort of way, but it is eerie, unsettling, and haunting.
The Image Entertainment DVD
Nosferatu is a silent film that has been released in different DVD versions with varying run times and intertitles. Also, character and place names are not the same in all versions. The DVD I'm discussing here is the Image Entertainment Special Edition titled Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror.
In the version I'm writing about, Stoker's Count Dracula becomes Count Orlok, Jonathan Harker becomes Hutter, and Mina becomes Ellen. Also, the part of the story Stoker set in London was transposed by Murnau to northern Germany—Bremen in some versions, but the fictional town of Wisborg in the one under discussion here. Finally, Murnau moved Stoker's story back in time five or six decades, and a title card on the Image Entertainment DVD gives the date as 1838.
A Strange Tale and an Unforgettable Vampire
Nosferatu opens in Wisborg, Germany, where the childlike Hutter and his Madonna-like wife Ellen live in what is apparently an unconsummated marriage. Then Hutter travels alone on business to Orlok's spooky castle in Transylvania, where the Count feeds on his blood. But when the Count sees a picture of Ellen, he opts to have nothing more to do with Hutter and goes by ship to Wisborg to pursue her. Meanwhile, Hutter makes his way over land back to his home, where he worries about the Count getting to his wife. Yet, the young man does little to prevent that from happening. Finally, Ellen takes matters into her own hands as to what she will do about her marriage, her relationship to the Count, and the death toll the vampire has brought to Wisborg.
Max Schreck gives an unforgettable performance in Nosferatu as Count Orlok. With his bald head, pointy ears, rat-like teeth, and talon-like hands, he's one of the most physically repulsive creatures in all of cinema. Yet, Schreck manages to make his character sympathetic, especially when he gazes forlornly out a window in the direction of Ellen's house.
Visual Style and Musical Score
The visual style of Nosferatu is stunning. Murnau combines long takes, deep focus, a moving camera, chiaroscuro, and location shooting to create a poetic film. The movie isn't truly in black-and-white since color tints are used throughout: blue for the dark of night and shades of sepia and amber for other lighting conditions. The influences of both German expressionism and romanticism can be seen in Murnau's work.
The Image Entertainment DVD provides a choice of two musical scores to accompany Nosferatu. The default score is composed and performed by the Silent Orchestra, a duo whose music features electronic synthesizers and driving percussive sounds. The alternate score is an organ performance based on 19th-century music. To my way of thinking, the latter is better suited to the film's visual style and macabre mood.
Review Continued on the Next Page: About the DVD Bonus Materials