Nosferatu is very high up in my personal canon. It would be in any top ten list of my favorite films ever made. Most likely in the top five. There is something enchanting about Nosferatu on a literal level. It works on the mind in a very primal way. Seeing it with a live score was something incredible. Watching the film galvanize the musicians and then their score flowing out into the crowd of people watching the film. Watching the effect spiral out, it’s almost like magic.
The best moments of Nosferatu have the purity of a child’s nightmare. The sequence where “Hutter” (perhaps the most ineffectual cinematic lead in horror history) opens the door to reveal the count at the end of the hall, only to have him draw closer and closer expertly sums up the feeling of dread that one had as a child. The sense of some lurking horror under the bed, in the closet, just out of sight in the dark. All Hutter can do is hide under the sheets and pray that it’ll go away. That the dark shape in the corner will turn out to be a benign pile of laundry. Only this time it’s not this time it’s exactly bad as you fear it is. And there’s nothing to do but wait as it draws closer.
To have just one sequence capable of such elemental power would have made the movie a classic. But Nosferatu is made up of nothing but those scenes. The streets of the buolic little town flooded with undertakers and coffins. Nosferatu standing tall against the horizon before the bound ship’s captain, the flood of rats emerging from the grave dirt of the spilled coffin, Nosferatu himself rising from the coffin, straight backed and horrifying. The look of Shrek is still just terrifying, shrunken and decrept but with that gleam of cunning and malevolence glistening in his eye. He’s one of cinema’s most convincing images of evil and decay. It is a film that communicates through pure image, is it any wonder that the film is so admired by Herzog.
Munrau’s film has been deconstructed and reconstructed in all possible ways. Including a proto Nazi parable (and it is chilling to reflect that the faces of the innocent children we see would grow up just in time to make up the prime of Hitler’s war machine) but the film is far deeper than mere allegory. Nosferatu at its best bypasses the forebrain and hits us deep in the place where we are weak. Where we remember the dark things that hunt us and haunt us and how little we are able to do about them. It is a movie that not only reminds us what we are afraid of but why we are afraid in the first place.
And with that I’ll wish you a happy and safe Halloween. Missed the 31 Days by two this year. Which sucks but considering the work load of writing I’ve been under as well as various guests posts isn’t too bad. Until next year, enjoy The Pumpkin Beer while it still flows freely.