F.W. Murnau’s silent masterpiece, Nosferatu, is like the fevered visions of hell we may see when all of our organs are shutting down and death creeps out of the darkness, battling modern medicine for our souls. When the seed of Belial is infecting your blood and soul I am not sure if those antibiotics and the iron lung are going to help your cause. Are those rats crawling on your cold feet under the covers, or is it just mom putting on your Bugs Bunny socks so you can forget the pain of death squeezing your guts like a ravenous bear. Nosferatu’s tall and eerily ratlike antagonist, Count Orlock, is a disease that spreads from his castle in Transylvania, wiping out several ports along the way, until the fiend settles in Wisburg. Orlock, an apparent real estate mogul who is slightly less unattractive than Donald Trump, sets up shop in the run down row of houses across from our hero, Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) and his, I guess, attractive for the times wife, Ellen (Greta Schroder). Sorry, didn’t mean to be harsh. Like Trump I am just saying what is on my mind, warped as it might be. If Trump wants to rant on about deadly illegal aliens he should have used Orlock as an example because the immigrant Count blows into Wisburg with the delicacy of the Ebola virus in an airplane filled with sneezing dwarves on the way to Disneyworld. Don’t let your kid share that ice cream with Mickey Mouse, that dude hasn’t been the same since Fantasia.
Nosferatu shows us images of such creeping terror that we can’t help but still feel their power nearly one hundred years later. Abe Vigoda was one year old when Murnau’s retelling of the Dracula story hit cinemas. Suck on that jugular for a bit. Take a look at Orlock when he first greets Hutter at his castle, agitated that the real estate agent has gotten there so late. Only midnight and the lazy servants have all retired!! Perhaps they have expired? Is there a passing resemblance between Orlock and an angry Detective Phil Fish or Tessio bundling up against the cold? I believe in ghosts more readily than I believe in coincidences. Are there any pictures of Abe Vigoda as a child, or even a young man? Are there any old and unsettling photographs of Vigoda and Max Schreck–he played the mysterious Orlock–together, drinking steins of beer at the hofbrauhaus? This would make a great In Search Of…..
While watching Nosferatu, perhaps we may feel as if we are looking at the images in some sinister children’s book that was found rummaging around in our grandparents’ musty attic while the worms are turning their corpses into mulch in the cemetery down the lane. This childlike innocence is especially evident when some characters pull the bed sheets over their head to try and protect themselves from Orlock’s death gaze and gnarled claws closing around their tasty necks. Not a pretty picture in your head, is it? Neither is the haunting shot of Orlock rising–stiff as a board–from his coffin in a ship’s cabin, ready to menace what remains of the crew. Extraordinarily disturbing if you are the scurvy-weakened first mate. Jump overboard. Take your chances with the sharks and stinging jellyfish. If you are a movie lover, hopefully you are amazed by the genius at work here. The technical aspects of film making don’t really interest me that much. The emotional and visceral result is what keeps me coming back. I don’t care how they make booze. I just care that it tastes good and gets me nice and drunk and I can have a good time. The same goes for film. I appreciate the craft, but don’t want to know the tricks.
Even three sheets to the wind on a haunted schooner, I know how difficult it was to pull off these tricks in the early 1920’s. The shadow of Orlock lumbering up the stairs has more power to me than any of the SAW films combined. Who needs torture porn when Murnau can mesmerize with black and white images of tortured souls being slowly and silently hunted by the bald fiend with the sharp teeth and pointy ears? It is timeless terror that stays with us and has the beauty and power of a Mahler symphony. As much as I love gore, I would rather have the blood freeze in my veins than see it spilled on screen.
There are shots in Nosferatu that will chill you like hearing about the death of a coworker. You feel like you aren’t even in your perceived reality anymore. When the Count arrives is Wisburg, bringing pestilence and the plague we may feel like we have come a long way through all these dirty histories until we have reached the enlightened age of today. Rats and disease are problems for the other half. You work, have a nice house and your disinterested wife even gives you a mechanical handjob every other Thursday. What can go wrong? The scene of people carrying coffins filled with loved ones through the empty streets of a 19th century city is strikingly similar to shit we see on the internet or on our smartphones as we try to pass the time waiting to get that gum surgery. Times may change, but the horrors remain the same. One suspects the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse will continue to drive our wagon until they lead us into the abyss, drowned in darkness and despair in an infinite universe where hope has been banished like a dimwitted child.
Evil is a timeless force that grows stronger as it evicts reason from our lives and replaces it with superstition. Superstitious people are almost like addicts, shaking and trembling with anticipation of their next dose of Orlock creeping about the countryside and pulling neighbors from their rudimentary houses into the emptiness of the night. Are their lives complete if they don’t hear the wolf’s howl or see the moon as a harsh and judgmental tax collector? It is their communal cross to bear and they seem resigned to live with the shadow of Orlock’s castle enveloping them in darkness. This mass hysteria is wonderfully shown by Murnau in the silent scenes of Hutter dealing with the townsfolk who live in the land surrounding Orlock’s fortress of evil.
At its heart, Nosferatu might just be the guy gets girl, guy loses girl to thirsty vampire, guy needs to win girl back and get rid of vampire somehow movie. Wisely, Murnau chooses to not have Ellen find Orlock attractive. Orlock is simply a stalker from beyond the grave who thinks this broad, Ellen, has a lovely neck. Not even a blind chick would find Orlock attractive. You have to wonder how bad the Count’s breath smells, as well? He is dead and he probably has a lot of dead skin collecting in his fangs. That shit goes rotten quick. Anyone have a dog? Breath of death, indeed.
I would hate to be stuck on the tarmac with Count Orlock because–even after one hundred years–he is still a monument to evil and can cause shivers in the heartiest of souls who call the new millennium home. Silence isn’t golden anymore. This planet of assholes and everyone thinks they have to be heard. We fart out nonsense and stupidity simply because we have the outlets to do so. It stinks!!! Silence is still scary, however. I would implore anyone who has not seen this to please check it out to witness one of the true classics of cinema. If you have seen it already, see it again. You are reading my article, after all. You probably don’t have much going on anyway.