Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013

Nosferatu’s Long Shadow

Classic of German Horror on Blu-ray

By David Luhrssen
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Lots of horror movies have been made since Nosferatu (1922), many of them starring vampires, yet few (if any) have the uncanny power of director F.W. Murnau’s classic. The new two-Blu-ray disc reissue restores missing shots; visual deterioration has been cleaned up and an orchestral performance of the original score constitutes the soundtrack.

But it must be said: even when watched on shoddy VHS prints, Nosferatu is unsettling. A German retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (nine years before Bela Lugosi’s turn), Nosferatu’s dread emanates from the depiction of the vampire, Count Orlok, a humanoid with spidery fingers, pointy ears and dagger-like teeth dwelling in a desolate castle on a rocky precipice. Visiting Orlok is the real estate agent Hutter—a young professional eager to make his way and sell the nobleman a house in a German port town. The sight of blood excites Orlok and he sucks greedily at Hutter’s thumb when the young man accidently cuts himself. Their encounter in the nocturnal castle is implicitly sexual and frighteningly so.

Murnau’s composition and direction is masterful throughout. Fully in command of the medium, he employs long, medium and close-ups, draws convincing performances from his cast and employs negative shots and altered camera speed to eerie effect when the black-shrouded coach, drawn by hooded horses, arrives to bring Hutter to the caste.

Included in the set is a fascinating documentary, The Language of Shadow, which tours some of the still extant sites in Lubeck and the Carpathian Mountains (Orlok’s castle still stands) and explores the occultism of Nosferatu’s producer Albin Grau and screenwriter Henrik Galeen. Both were part of a network of occult lodges linked to Aleister Crowley. Along with the influence of Biedermeier paintings, Nosferatu was suffused with occult images. Murnau’s interest in such things is left unclear.

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