Masters Of Cinema #70 - Nosferatu - Blu-ray Review

Should films earn additional points for becoming iconic? It’s a tricky question, and one to which there almost certainly isn’t a definitive answer. It’s also the question I found myself continually asking myself whilst watching Nosferatu, director F. W. Murnau’s undeniably influential take on Bram Stoker’s infamous vampire Count Dracula, and the earliest surviving version of the character on film.

The jewel within Nosferatu’s iconic status crown is undoubtedly Max Schreck’s central performance as Count Orlok - Dracula in all but name. Schreck’s enigmatic presence whenever he appears is uncanny. He delivers a theatrical, striking turn reminiscent of another German actor portraying an iconic screen villain at around the same time, namely Rudolf Klein-Rogge in the title role of Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler. Schreck’s sharp, gaunt figure complete with bald head, piercing eyes, animalistic fangs protruding from the front of his mouth and disturbingly arachnoid hands is unforgettable; coupled with the actor’s expert blending of both subtle and exaggerated elements into his performance, the fact that his version of Dracula has resonated throughout the succeeding decades is both unsurprising and thoroughly deserved. The influence of Murnau’s character design and Schreck’s performance as Orlok can be seen in cinema right up to the modern day. Without Nosferatu there would be no Uncle Fester in The Addams Family, no Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, and no Tim Burton films full stop.

Away from Schreck’s vampiric antagonist, things are arguably less memorable. Henrick Galeen’s screenplay is clearly based upon Stoker’s original novel, but is considerably simplified from the source material. Factors such as removing secondary characters and the added depth they provided in Dracula make Nosferatu at times a little too basic to truly take hold. The opening act - lasting around twenty five minutes - is particularly uneventful, feeling as though it could have set up Thomas Hutter’s (Gustav von Wangenheim) journey to Transylvania and na├»vety at the danger awaiting him in half the time or less. This prolonged opening act also serves to delay the first appearance of Schreck as Orlok, denying the film its most valuable element for over a quarter of its running time. Later, Galeen’s script takes things too far the other way, introducing more characters than is necessary thereby failing to develop many of them in anything more than a rudimentary way.

Nosferatu in the modern day sits uncomfortably between its iconic status and its at times superficial take on Stoker’s gothic classic. Murnau’s film is certainly enjoyable, as well as his finely crafted photography - his brilliant use of shadows in particular - both memorable and influential. But there are definite points at which you’ll wish Nosferatu offered something more than its overly simplistic version of Dracula. That said, falling a few minutes short of one hundred in length, this isn’t a film that demands a great deal of time from you. The performance from Schreck alone makes this worth watching, allowing you to see a piece of cinematic history - one which at one time could very well have been lost forever - played out in front of you. Gothic horror aficionados might be inclined to add an extra star onto my rating based on the hugely influential status of Schreck’s iconic turn (possibly whilst berating me as a philistine under their breath). But, taken as a whole, Nosferatu never quite sinks its teeth into Stoker’s novel the way later big screen interpretations of Transylvania’s most famous resident manage to do so.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Nosferatu is available on UK DVD and newly released Blu-ray version now.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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