This is a first for me, for I am reviewing my very first silent film. A century ago, it was difficult for cameras to record sound, so they had to pipe in music. dialogue was created by cutting to a blank screen and putting text on it. Today, of course, it’s hard to imagine that you could ever record video without also being able to record sound, but apparently, that was the case.
Nosferatu is an icon of this era, supposedly. An unofficial adaptation of the novel Dracula, it changes the names of the characters to avoid a lawsuit. It is one of the first horror flicks ever, and is partially credited with the creation of entire genre. While, that may be true, I must protest: even factoring in the limitations of the era, Nosferatu isn’t that good.
Well, the acting isn’t half-bad. I mean, the performances aren’t excellent, but they could be much worse. The protagonists do acceptable jobs portraying people launched into a nightmarish fantasy. Max Schreck plays Count D-Orlok pretty well, if largely because all he has to do is look menacing. But this touches on a negative that I’ll point out later.
The story and dialogue also move along well. The lines are well-timed (when each line paused the film, they had to be limited) and used sparingly. The plot progresses well and with appropriate character reactions to events. Even the sets are pretty well-done, especially for the 1920s.
So what’s the problem? First of all, it’s good that Orlok isn’t named Dracula because they don’t get the character. Let’s start by saying that he’s monstrous and ugly. Really, he looks like an orc from… screw it, any version will do. Now, ugly monsters are nothing new, but unless I’m a victim of premature Alzheimer’s, Dracula is meant to be a good-looking, seductive monster who women find sexy and men would still like to drink with. Count Orlok was created with anything but this description in mind.
The other problem is that the atmosphere of the film is not scary. It’s effective enough, with a dark feel, but it never makes much effort toward being scary. Horror novels had been around forever, so this would be pretty hard to miss in making the movie. Or at least you’d think that.
Despite its historical importance, Nosferatu is not a very good horror flick. It’s not bad, but in my opinion, the first true vampire classic was 1931’s Dracula.
Overall: 5 out of 10