Saturday, October 30, 2010

Nosferatu (1922) and Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Now I get to jump back and talk about one of the very first ever adaptations of Dracula on film, Nosferatu. Since the novel was still copyrighted at the time of the film's creation, a lot of the names and some of the events in the movie were purposefully changed to try to differentiate it from Dracula. Florence Stoker, Bram's wife, still found the result to be too close to her husband's novel and sued them successfully. Many copies of the movie were destroyed and distribution banned. Fortunately, some people held on to their copies and the movie still exists today.

Because there is no longer any copyright on the film today either, the version of Nosferatu that you view is going to differ dramatically depending on where you get it from. Also, as a silent film, the soundtrack can vary greatly. In more recent decades, there have been many efforts to put the movie to a modern soundtrack. Nosferatu the First Vampire (available via the link on a disc with Night of the Living Dead and House on Haunted Hill) sets the film to the music of the group Type O Negative, there is a "gothic industrial remix" you can view through Netflix streaming, and also a Del Ray and the Sun Kings electronica version for rental. The one I viewed last night had music by the Silent Orchestra, which seemed to be largely midi orchestral music. All the versions I've seen are also color coded, with blue/purple shading for night scenes and a golden yellow for the day, along with some scenes tinted in red. I'm fairly certain this was not on the original...

All of the names in the film are changed. Here's a guide for you:
Dracula - Count Orlok
Jonathan Harker - Thomas Hutter
Mina - Ellen
Renfield - Knock
Arthur - Harding
Lucy - Annie
Van Helsing - Professor Bulwer

There's also a doctor who leads the asylum and could be considered to be John Seward, but his role is fairly minimal.

The story starts off with an already slightly crazy looking Knock sending Hutter off to Count Orlok's estate. It's amazing to me how nearly every adaptation, even an unauthorized one like this, always does their best to get these opening scenes as accurate as possible. I guess everyone really loves the idea of this poor guy being sent off to accomplish a task and ending up in great danger in the hands of a demon. In this movie we even get a shot of the breakfast being all laid out and ready for Jonathan/Hutter when he wakes up. For a guy with no servants who can't eat normal food, Dracula/Orlok really goes out of his way to feed his guests. I guess the blood of a starving man doesn't taste as good.

One of the interesting things about this movie is that when Hutter cuts himself, Orlok actually reaches out and sucks the blood off his finger. Dracula is warded away by the rosary Jonathan is wearing in the book. Can you imagine actually arriving somewhere, and when you cut your hand your host reaches out and starts sucking on your thumb? Sounds like the time to leave to me! Hutter however is only slightly freaked by this. Another addition to this scene is that Orlok spies a picture of Ellen in a locket Hutter is carrying. This is where this idea of Dracula having a particular interest in Mina all started, as it simply isn't in the book at all. In the book, Dracula chooses her specifically because he knows the men trying to destroy him are attached to her, and because his turning her also provides him a connection with which to spy on them. It's not the romantic love affair that so many of the movies make it out to be.

There are no brides for Count Orlok, poor lonely guy. Instead he feeds on Hutter for a couple days until all the paperwork is ready and he can head to Winsburg, Germany. When Hutter sees that the count is heading to his home town, he fears for Ellen's safety and knows he must leave. He's been locked inside so he rips apart his bed sheets to make a rope and climb down. Jonathan just scaled the walls parkour style in the novel, so Hutter seems like a bit of chicken by comparison.

We see Orlok travel via raft and then boat in a coffin along with about 8 other coffins worth of dirt and rats. Orlok himself is very rat like in appearance, another attempt to distance him from Count Dracula. The sailors on the ship begin to die off one by one, and the captain and first mate blame the plague at first. Over time though they sense that someone else is on the ship, and the first mate goes below to try to do something about it. On the ship is where we see two of the freakiest parts of the whole movie: Orlok rises ramrod straight from his coffin, and in another point we see him appear standing momentarily in a transparent form around the coffins. This latter one is enough to freak the first mate out so that he commits suicide by jumping off the ship. The captain steels his courage and ties himself to the ship's wheel, determined to go down with his ship and bring it and its goods to harbor. The ship does make it to shore, but sadly the captain is dead. This whole sequence is accurate to the novel.

Once the ship has made it to Winsburg, the townspeople decide that the captain has died of the plague and a pandemic spreads through out the town, with many dying and a lot of people afraid to leave their homes. The movie doesn't really spell out whether it is Orlok preying on all these people or if the rats he brought with him really did carry the plague. However, we are told later that the plague stops after he's defeated, so I think it's fairly safe to assume that he's the one doing it.

The villagers however decide that it must be crazy old Knock's fault, who by this time has been institutionalized and is eating flies and spiders. He escapes and the people chase him about the town throwing rocks at him. They eventually chase him out into a field, but instead of attacking him they destroy a scarecrow. I really don't know what that's all about.

Ellen seems to have psychic powers and had been having horrible dreams about things she just knew were happening to her husband. She's also a sleep walker, like Lucy was in the books. She knows there's something horribly wrong with Count Orlok, who has moved into the large abandoned house across from her own home.

Hutter made his way to a convent where he was taken care of by the nuns there, but quickly returns home to try to keep his wife safe. He's been carrying around a handy little book on vampires that he had previously laughed off. Ellen reads the book and finds out that a woman pure of heart can defeat a vampire by distracting him and forcing him to forget about the sunrise while he's feeding off her blood. With Hutter still too ill to stop her, Ellen sets her trap for Orlok and is successful. He disintegrates as he faces the sun (another first and game changer, as in the novel Dracula was perfectly capable of walking around in the daytime, he just couldn't use his powers). Ellen is weak and Hutter goes to Professor Bulwer for help, but it's too late and she pays for saving them with her life.

This movie has a few really interesting scenes that are barely related to the film but are really neat to see. They mention that a werewolf is prowling Transylvania, and then we get to see some really awesome shots of a hyena or jackal type canine roaming the countryside and bothering horses. Professor Bulger also shows his class a venus fly trap catching a fly and a rather mean looking spider preying on insects.

If you've never seen this movie, drop all reservations you have about a silent film being boring and watch it. This is the scariest version of Dracula ever, and probably always will be. To see him rise from the coffin, his shadow against the wall, the long spindly fingers that come to a point, the fangs of his front teeth, the shadow of his hand reaching up Ellen's body and grabbing her heart, the dark penetrating stare.. it's absolutely chilling and beautifully shot. Watch it in the dark to get the full effect.

Nosferatu the Vampyre

In 1979, a remake of the original Nosferatu was made by Werner Herzog. It is intentionally meant to be more like the film than an adaptation of Dracula, though thanks to the rights no longer being restricted, the characters now have their original names. Perhaps the strangest part of that is that Ellen becomes Lucy and Harding's wife becomes Mina.

It is a fairly faithful remake, and there are even many shots that are almost exact duplicates of the original. Obviously there is now dialogue and the film is in full color. I would definitely consider this movie to be an art film. The opening sequence shows the mummies of Guanajuato who are absolutely horrifying to look at. It's explained as being a part of Lucy's dream. There are also long sweeping shots of countryside, and at one point there is a gypsy boy just hanging out in Dracula's castle playing a violin. At one point Lucy ventures about the town viewing all the coffins of people who have died of the plague, and others who are still suffering are having dinner out in a courtyard and invite her to join them. It's one of those kind of movies where no one tells you what's a dream sequence and what's real.

There are some moments that make it a little more like the novel. A lady gives Jonathan a rosary to wear around his neck for protection. The "children of the night" line is paraphrased while Jonathan eats his dinner in front of Dracula. Jonathan writes a journal, rather than a letter, when he is at the castle. Dracula is shown to have no reflection in the mirror, though this time the scene happens with Lucy rather than Jonathan. The host is used to sanctify his coffins.

The host is also used to keep Jonathan in place by forming a circle around him. On one hand this is like the novel as Van Helsing does the same to keep Mina within and the brides of Dracula out at one point. On the other, yeah.. Jonathan is a vampire in this movie. Van Helsing also starts out as a complete skeptic who follows science and isn't interested in what Lucy has to tell him about what's going on. It's only after Dracula has fed on her (and killed her) that he realizes the problem. The sun also makes Dracula pass out in this version, and Van Helsing stakes him. The police arrest Van Helsing, in a sort of tribute to Dracula's Daughter, I guess. Jonathan then asks a maid to sweep up the host crumbs all around his chair, and then rides off toward the horizon on a horse. End of film.

Really, I don't understand the point of this. I'm totally for movies with dark endings if they're done correctly, but when you start off making such a faithful remake and then you go and change this so dramatically... why?

Your own personal tolerance for art films is going to be what makes you decide if you can watch this and enjoy it or not. I enjoyed pretty much everything but the ending.

Shadow of the Vampire

This won't be a full blown review as I haven't had a chance to sit down and watch the film in years, but I can't talk about Nosferatu without mentioning it. The concept of the movie is that the director hired a real life vampire to play Count Orlok, and he keeps feeding upon the actors and crew as they attempt to shoot the film. It is a dark, dry comedy and in my opinion, absolutely hilarious. I also think it's a brilliant idea - Max Shreck is so wonderfully creepy and brings the role to life so well, you almost do have to wonder. The movie features Willam Defoe as Shreck and John Malkovich as director Murnau, and even includes Eddie Izzard and Cary Elwes in smaller roles. Go watch it!

Tomorrow, I will talk about 1992's Bram Stoker's Dracula.

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