Year of Monsters: Nosferatu

Well, it’s our penultimate movie, folks, and the oldest Year of Monsters film selected. It also happens to be the first vampire movie ever made, not to mention a completely unauthorized retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that, due to a lawsuit, was nearly wiped out of existence. It’s hard to overstate the influence of Nosferatu; this movie is legend. It is quintessential horror film history.

So, I kinda wish I had more to say about it.

Year: 1922
Director: F.W. Murnau
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yup, and spoilers for Dracula, too

The question: did I enjoy watching Nosferatu?

Truthfully, no. This movie is only two years shy of being a hundred years old, and as such, is often dreadfully slow. The score, particularly in the first half of the film, is incredibly monotonous–though, admittedly, one can’t really blame the original film for that. This isn’t the original score, after all, or at least not the full original score, as that’s been lost to time. But as we saw quite clearly with Dracula, music drastically impacts your perception of a movie, and while watching this, I found the repetitive music equally annoying and distracting. The story and editing, too, often leave something to be desired.

Still, there’s a lot I do find fascinating about Nosferatu, especially when comparing it to its source material. All the character names were changed, of course, since the creators were trying (and obviously failing) not to get sued–although not in the version I watched, which substituted the original names from the novel instead. (Mostly. Mina became Nina for, uh, Reasons?) But there are other changes, too: Lucy (AKA Annie), for once in her poor, miserable life, actually gets to live–something I don’t think I’ve seen in any adaptation, not even the clearly superlatives ones like Dracula 2000. Unfortunately, that’s mostly because Lucy is barely in this movie, like, I’m at a bit of a loss as to why they included her and her husband at all. (Or her brother. Again, this depends on which version you get. In the version I saw, Lucy was married to Mr. Westenra, which greatly amused me since Westerna is traditionally Lucy’s surname. But with different intertitles, these characters become Annie and Annie’s brother, Harding. Which is both odd and hilarious.)

Unsurprisingly, Lucy’s suitors are once again cut from the story, as are the vampire brides. What is shocking, though, is how little Van Helsing matters here, like, he’s sorta in the movie? ( He’s Professor Bulwer, I think?) But really, Van Helsing is just as inconsequential as Lucy; he certainly doesn’t become this great foe to Dracula/Count Orlok. The only characters of any actual importance are VH/CO, Jonathan Harker/Thomas Hutter, Mina/Nina/Ellen Hutter, and Renfield/Knock.

All of these changes lead to some fascinating variations in vampire mythology. For instance, Count Orlok–unlike most Draculas–never turns anyone into a vampire. He kills the shit out of people on the Demeter (and then kills even more people on land, which is promptly mistaken for the plague), but without Lucy or the brides involved, it’s kinda implied that vampires can’t be created here. Even more interesting is Count Orlok’s death: according to a very handy guide called The Book of Vampires, only a woman can slay the monster, a woman “pure in heart–who will offer her blood freely to Nosferatu and will keep the vampire by her side until after the cock has crowed.” And in the end, that’s exactly what happens: M/N/E sacrifices herself, and Count Orlok is killed by the dawn–although I was so surprised by M/N/E’s death that I wasn’t actually sure she had died, at first. I legit paused, all, “. . . wait, is she dead-dead, or did she just really dramatically faint?” Alas, she is dead-dead, making this the incredibly strange adaptation of Dracula where Lucy not only survives but outlives lead heroine Mina.

But it’s not Mina’s sacrifice that interests me so much as the manner of Orlok’s death because–far as I can tell–Nosferatu is the first example of sunlight being fatal to a vampire. Which, like, that’s just neat, right? I admit, I can get pretty nerdy about stuff like this: I love to see what sticks (and what doesn’t) when it comes to the evolution of monster lore. There’s something that’s just fascinating about how one aspect of a story can grab hold of our collective imagination and, over time, inspire a redefinition of the canon. We have plenty of modern stories where vampires can walk in the sunlight, of course, but those always have to be pointed out as exceptions to the rule. Back in 1922, though, Count Orlok was the exception, a vampire who–unlike Dracula and others–could not survive the day.

Though I have to admit, I’m grateful that this whole “pure woman” nonsense didn’t quite make the cut. Kick that bullshit straight into the sun.

Random Notes:

1. After Mina dies, we go back to look at Count Orlok’s castle one last time before the movie abruptly ends–but why? I get the castle was a big deal setting and all, but we left that shit behind, like, almost an hour ago. Mina’s tragic death is a much stronger conclusion than some random ass shot of an empty castle in another country. I can’t even think of a good equivalent here. It’d be like, IDK, going back for one last look of the empty grocery store after the last scene in The Mist. Or maybe leaving Chinatown in Chinatown just to get a quick peak of the bad guy’s house. It’s fucking weird.

2. Some shots in this movie, though, are classic for a reason. Orlok rising from his coffin on the Demeter, for instance? Awesome. I also really like this one shot of coffins being carried through town, although honestly, that probably hit harder than it would’ve a few months ago. I did not come into Nosferatu thinking I’d be watching a goddamn plague movie.

3. Jonathan Harker smiles when we first meet him, and frankly, it’s kinda creepy. I almost mistook him for Renfield, TBH, except that it’s clear Jonathan and Mina/Nina are a Thing. And while I was obviously expecting to see some adaptational changes, a Renfield/Mina romance was definitely not one of them.

Actual Renfield, meanwhile, not only has his own creepy smile down; he also some serious eyebrow action going on. And I usually try not to judge because I refuse to shape my own brows, but dude, you gotta trim that shit down.

4. There’s an animal in this movie that’s apparently supposed to be a werewolf, but pretty clearly is just a hyena.

5. Finally, I just watched the trailer for Shadow of the Vampire.

Oh, God, I’m gonna have to watch this, aren’t I?

The Current Ranking

1. The Black Cat
2. Creature from the Black Lagoon
3. The Bride of Frankenstein
4. Dracula
5. Tarantula
6. The Mummy
7. The Invisible Man
8. Frankenstein
9. It Came From Outer Space
10. Nosferatu
11. The Phantom of the Opera

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