Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nosferatu, a Review

Nosferatu is widely acclaimed for being one of the scariest films of all time.  With its iconic screen-shots, recognizable villain, lack of speech (i.e., a silent film), and word-of-mouth praise, I had some pre-conceived ideas about what to expect when I put the film on last night.  Sadly, my expectations fell flat within minutes of the film's exposition.  There are spoilers for those of you unfamiliar with Dracula or any other vampire story.

Nosferatu is essentially Dracula, though for legal reasons at the time, changes were made to avoid being sued.  Chiefly, Count Dracula is now Count Orlok, a creeper that lives off in the "land of ghosts and thieves."  A young real estate agent, and the film's protagonist, Hutter, has been given the task of securing deed work from Orlok to purchase a "beautiful and abandoned house" in the town.  Hutter leaves his beloved, Ellen, and sets off.  Needless to say, things go about how you'd expect, with only one additional plot element that I didn't see coming.

First off, before I begin deconstructing this film, an apology: I obviously am not the targeted audience and I've been too exposed to modern cinema to enjoy this movie.  Others (perhaps fans of TCM and Expressionism) like and appreciate this movie.  I don't.  And I'll explain why.

To begin with, I'm not a fan of Expressionism theater*.  I understand that it may have been useful for early 20th century folks, especially when so much was relied upon conveying through movement, but to me, it's just ridiculous.  I can't fathom why the folks of the time cared for it, either.  Real life is not Expressionistic.  The over-exaggerated movements and absurd facial expressions belong in a comedy, not a horror.  Most of the time I wanted to punch Hutter in the face for being so idiotic; I wanted to wipe the sycophantic smirk off of Knock's face; I wanted to slap some liberation into Ellen.  Even Count Orlok, while relatively reserved compared to the rest of the cast, fell to this form.  And as I said, this does not perpetuate horror, but comedy.

The next thing, and perhaps my biggest annoyance, was the score that accompanied the film.  We watched the Netflix Instant version of Nosferatu, and the film had a slide at the beginning that said the score was added in 1991.  I'm not sure who composed or played here**, or how this score compares to Hans Erdmann's original, but it was awful.  It basically sounded like a young musician learning about synthesizers and keyboards decided to tinker around.  Music rarely fit the scene, and half of it grew tedious after a few seconds of listening.

The third (and for brevity's sake, final) problem was the character's themselves.  Hutter was an idiot.  I don't know why he chose to act the way he did, but his actions were totally unforgivable.  Consider the following:
At Orlok's eerie and abandoned manse, Hutter is cutting him a slice of bread.  He cuts his finger accidentally.  Immediately Orlok is at the man's side and attempts to suck the blood from his finger.  Disturbed, Hutter backs away.  All the way to a cozy chair beside a fireplace.  Orlok, seconds later, suggests they sit and chat a while, and Hutter agrees.  The idiot falls asleep.  Then, the next day, he frolics around the estate, where he happens upon Orlok's sleeping body, that so happens to be in a coffin.  Horrified, Hutter runs away to the safest place possible: his room, where he puts a cover over his head and cowers in terror.  Good thing Orlok decided to leave for his new abandoned mansion, else I might have broken my tv.
What person is their right mind would do something like that?  It's so bad that I had to offset the whole paragraph!  Is Hutter supposed to be an imbecile?  And another thing.  Hutter brings a few books with him to read.  They're necessary plot devices, and when he picks one up, a slide comes up to show the Viewer what he's reading.  At one point, Hutter finishes his book and he slams it shut then hurls it to the floor.  For no apparent reason other than to persuade the Viewer that that's how one ought to treat a book.

I could go on and on about my problems with the film, but I'll stop at three.  There is a few commendable features, chiefly Orlok himself, that I found slightly enjoyable and somewhat creepy.  Max Schreck played his part well, and the vampire's movements & actions were the only part of this movie that could qualify as horror.  I particularly liked his slow walk and his disfigured face.  

In the end, Nosferatu was a worthless movie to watch.  Perhaps had I watched it fifty years ago.  Perhaps had I muted the tv.  Perhaps had I gouged my eyes out.  But alas, I did watch it, and I can't really recommend it to you unless you're a silent film fan, or simply curious to see the seminal vampire movie.  That said, there are other versions besides the one on Netflix, and mayhap they're better.  I won't be investigating, though.

*Though it does often work well in a comedy.

**A Google search says there are two Netflix versions.  One has a score created by the Silent Orchestra, which I believe is the one I watched.  The other apparently is no better.  [Source: here.]


contemplatrix said...

haven't seen this, as I had heard it was very scary. Maybe they meant it's scary how bad it actually is? too bad. We had these kinds of films in my film class, a seminal classic to be watched and contemplated; few to actually be enjoyed.

I wonder if the "Idiotic" was to equate with "Unsuspecting" thus producing anxiety. But for the anxiety to work, you have to want to wish the potential victim survival; not impatience to see them done in already! there are those characters...

and too bad about the soundtrack. that is awful!

appreciate your review, Logan. it is very helpful.


logankstewart said...

L: Very scary is so much of an overstatement, but it's the same thing I heard, too. I had similar feelings about Citizen Kane.

Yeah, if you ever decide to watch it, get it from the library as opposed to Netflix. Hopefully they'd have better quality.

Carl V. said...

I am a big fan of the novel Dracula and about 10 years ago I went and saw a re-release of this in an old theater with a live orchestra. It was great fun and I actually enjoyed the film. I wouldn't want to watch this kind of thing all the time, but I appreciate and enjoy the history of a film like this and in its own way I find it creepy and scary. I'm sorry it didn't do anything for you.