Saturday, July 2, 2016

Spotlight on Independent Films - Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror (1922)

We have all seen bits and pieces of Nosferatu either in Halloween costume commercials, music videos, or as part of some Halloween video that goes viral for a week or so. But if you have not seen the whole movie yet, then I invite you to watch it here, because I included the whole thing in this review. It is well worth the watch, even if you are only watching it to see the parts you recognize from other movies and YouTube videos.

The studio that made Nosferatu was forced into bankruptcy by the estate of Bram Stoker because, let's be honest, Nosferatu is a rip-off of Dracula. But to its credit, Nosferatu also created several elements of the Dracula legend that Stoker did not include in his story. The idea that sunlight kills a vampire came from Nosferatu and not Dracula. But that idea endures today.

We almost did not have Nosferatu because, after the courts decided that Nosferatu was a direct rip-off of Dracula, all copies of the movie were ordered to be destroyed. But by the time the courts had made that decision, the studio had sent copies to theaters and private screening houses all over the world. Most of the copies were destroyed, including the original, but the copies have survived to give us the version we see today.

It is fun to track the history of Nosferatu, because it seems like every year someone finds another copy in an attic somewhere and it has even more footage that no one has ever seen before. There are colorized versions of Nosferatu out there that are just awful. Director F.W. Murnau was an artist who experimented extensively with colored filters and other effects to make Nosferatu. The end result is a movie that reveals all of its secrets when it is colorized. So I would not recommend wasting your time watching a colorized version of this classic independent film.

The hardest thing for modern viewers to do is to remember that Nosferatu was made in 1922 and most of the effects in the movie were cutting edge back in the day. The scene that is done in negative to give a different effect looks odd today, but it was extremely effective in 1922. The blanket that seemingly moves by itself but is obviously moved by hand using stop motion is just another example of how Murnau tried to push the envelop of movie making at a time when the envelope was extremely primitive.

Contrary to popular belief, star Max Schreck actually did wear a decent amount of make-up to get the Nosferatu effect. I love reading stories by people who claim Schreck was so ugly that they even named an ogre after him. There is a lot of make-up in the Nosferatu look, but Shreck really was that thin and that is kind of scary.

Nosferatu is more popular now than it ever could have been when it was released. Only a very limited number of people saw the film before it was outlawed. Over time, Nosferatu was allowed to be brought back into public view and I really think that the world is a better place because of it.

Rating: 3 out of 5

George N Root III is a movie guy who loves the stories behind movies. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3, or send him a message at