An estate agent named Hutter is headed to Transylvania to sell a deserted estate to a mysterious Count named Orlock. Once at the Count’s castle, Hutter notices and feels some unusual occurrences. Are dark shadows hanging over him? Why are neighbouring villages so frightened by his castle? And why does the Count sleep during the day? Could he be a blood drinking demon of the night?
Amelia: This was the first time I’ve ever seen Nosferatu! And honestly, it’s probably the last. At an hour and a half, this vampire flick from 1922 probably held my attention for twenty-five percent of that time. Not a stellar percentage. Definitely a failing grade.
Billy: I watched Nosferatu for the first time in film school, in an academic context. I was still a hotshot young film student, watching it in a theatre as it was meant to be seen. It demanded my attention. Watching it now, I see how poorly it has aged for casual viewing. I don’t mean that offensively! And I hope we can all discuss this civilly. It’s a silent movie with many long sequences of people opening their mouths and waving their arms at one another. The mind wanders when you’re in a living room. I actually had a lot of fun re-watching it with Amelia, reading out the title cards and creating voices for all the characters. Maybe I was a little drunk at the time. But isn’t it nice to have fun when we watch movies? I didn’t adore the film quite as much this time around, but I still had a great time watching it.
Amelia: I know this was probably super scary when people first saw it in 1922, but it’s a little less than chilling ninety-four years later. Maybe chalk it up to it being a silent picture that had no atmosphere outside of the music (that I’ve been told isn’t the same music it was originally made with). Maybe chalk it up to me not being that into vampires to begin with. Maybe chalk it up to my modern desensitization to frightening things. I can definitely appreciate the techniques used to make this movie. The shadows that Nosferatu cast upon the walls as he stalks towards Ellen’s bedroom are beautiful. And I can definitely tell where the film was supposed to frighten me. It just didn’t.
Billy: The structure of early film takes a lot out of you. Five acts? We can’t handle that now. If this movie were to be made today, none of the scenes on the ship would make it through the final cut. You would see the ship come back into port empty with everything else being inferred. A lot could be cut, actually, and I think that would be a fun editing exercise to take on at one point. How much of this is essential? How much of it is nonessential only because this film created tropes that we are now intimately familiar with? Get to the vampire quicker, and a lot of the problems are sorted out. We know we’re all here for Count Orlock. Give me the abridged version.
Amelia: One thing that I can praise about Nosferatu is their creature design. When the next iteration of Dracula came along in 1931 (and don’t deny that Nosferatu is just Dracula by another name), it was Bela Lugosi who played the blood sucker. The man just slicked back his hair and wore a high-collared cloak. Max Schreck, who played Nosferatu, looks truly monstrous in comparison. The bald, oddly shaped head. The pointed, bat-like ears. The fingers elongated like claws. The two front teeth, huge and sharp and always visible. That’s all pretty creepy stuff. I’m a firm believer that, since vampires are monsters, they should look like monsters. Nosferatu does that and does it well.
Billy: Seriously. Have you ever really looked at that character design? This is 1922. Film is still in its infancy, let alone special effects. And yet, they created an image that cut through all the humanity of the actor and created something truly foreign and shocking. It’s an image that still works to chill you to the bone. It’s actually a shame that the studio that made Nosferatu was shut down due to the copyright battle this film created. They really seemed to take horror seriously and intended to continue with horror films as a staple genre. Imagine how many incredible stories we could have gotten from their wildly loose adaptations. I would have loved to see F.W. Murnau tackle Frankenstein or the Wolfman. Retaining a European influence in these stories, I know they would have turned out wholly different.
Amelia: Three vampires out of ten
Technically speaking, Nosferatu is an achievement in film making. And no doubt it had people quaking way back when. Nowadays though, there are scarier things in an episode of Scooby-Doo.
Billy: Four vampires out of ten
I spent the majority of this film thinking about the off-the-wall Shadow of the Vampire movie, which is a meta piece detailing the making of Nosferatu. Which makes sense. The reason for Nosferatu still existing is its legacy and its enduring images that have been driven into our consciousness. It doesn’t necessarily hold up as a film to be watched on Halloween night, but I am so glad it’s been preserved.