A vampiric double feature was the order of the day yesterday, as I continue my way through 101 Horror Movies, which allowed my first full visit with Count Orlock in Nosferatu, and revisiting Lugosi in Dracula.
Of the two, Nosferatu is the superior film, and quite possibly my favorite silent film to date, well second favorite, I love Lang’s Metropolis.
Both films are based on Bram Stoker’s original novel, thow Murnau, the director of Nosferatu couldn’t afford the rights, so took some liberties with names and locations and made his own film. The Stoker estate, of course, stepped in, and surviving copies of the film were given a credit recognizing Stoker’s work.
Of the two, Nosferatu, which runs longer, is the stronger and better film for a number of reasons. Orlock, the vampire is first, this is a hideous creature, one that preys on its victims, one that lurks in the darkness.
Lugosi’s turn as Dracula, while assuredly original at the time, has over the years become mired in satire and irony, it’s now hard to separate the one from the other, though I am sure at the time his Dracula was every bit as charming and hypnotizing as they proclaimed him to be. But he’s no longer frightening.
The locations and size of Nosferatu also come into play, giving the film an epic feel and look, while interior sets are fairly basic, all the exteriors are impressive, mountainous landscapes, thundering rivers, storm-tossed waters, ancient and decrepit buildings.
Dracula has a few outside locations, but the entire second half of the film seems to be confined to sets, and verbal sparring, instead of hunting, killing and staking, between Dracula and a Max Von Sydow-looking Van Helsing.
Also impressive in Nosferatu was the use of tinted film to suggest things like daylight, night shots, and warm cozy interiors, allowing the film to stand out from other films.
Orlock’s startling presence makes him stand out from all other vampires who came before and after, though the master vampire in Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot bears a passing resemblance to him, so perhaps they are related, or King is simply paying Homage. Not only is he visually frightening, Murnau makes excellent use of Orlock’s shadow as well, giving the impression of a supernatural predator stalking its prey.
Highlights of Dracula though is the portrayal of Renfield, wild-eyed and manic, he steals practically every scene he is in and the first appearance in the catacombs of the vampire brides, who after a quick visit with a victim near the films beginning are quickly forgotten and not seen for the rest of the film.
Although Dracula may be the most familiar name of the film vampires, in the end Nosferatu is the most frightening, his reign of terror across a countryside, and eventually a small town is attributed to and compared with the fear of plague, while Lugosi’s Dracula seems content to wander about feed when he likes, and do as he pleases in an elitist sort of way.
So while Dracula launched what came to be known as the Universal Monsters, Nosferatu is by far the superior vampire, and the superior film, and well on its way to one of my favorite vampire films.