Oh my word the overacting.
Admittedly, it’s probably no surprise that a 1922 horror/fantasy film about vampires would trend towards the melodramatic. But all of the leads in Nosferatu are in a constant state of Heavy Emoting – wild laughter, hand-to-forehead swooning, biting-nails recoiling. Even a simple scene when our hero comes home from a day at work – at the sight of his wife, he’s way more overjoyed than seems necessary.
This young man is our hero, “Thomas Hutter”, a young German realtor who is sent to Transylvania to convince the mysterious “Count Orlock” to invest in property in his town. Unbeknownst to Hutter, his boss, “Knock”, already knows Count Orlock’s supernatural secret, and is hoping his spunky young employee will be a tempting treat. He suggests to Hutter that the abandoned house across the street from where Hutter lives with his wife Helen would be perfect for the count. Count Orlock agrees – but only after accidentally seeing a portrait of Helen. Handing it back to Hutter, he observes that “your wife has a lovely neck.”
….I’m not going to go into the plot. It’s a vampire movie. You know the drill.
I can appreciate this film’s historic and critical significance, and yes, Max Schreck’s creepy turn as Count Orlock is notable. But I simply couldn’t get past the melodramatic acting. One early moment, which no doubt was supposed to be shocking, came when Hutter is in an inn, and casually mentions that he’s heading for Count Orlock’s castle, and instantly everyone in the crowded inn falls silent and turns to stare at him. However, instead of finding it shocking, I was reminded of the old E. F. Hutton commercials from the 1970s and found myself laughing.
That moment also paves the way for a puzzlingly bizarre sequence. After Hutter announces his travel plans, the innkeeper finally recovers and urges him to stay inside that night “because the werewolf is out tonight.” Hutter nods thoughtfully – and then we see a few minutes of a hyena roaming around the hills at night, startling some horses and then ambling back into the underbrush. And…..scene.
We never see or hear anything about the werewolf again, and I spent several minutes after distracted by wondering how the producers got a hyena for the film.
To be fair, it’s very possible that my perspective was skewed by another, later film I really liked – Shadow of The Vampire, with John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe. Shadow of The Vampire was a fictional “behind the scenes” story about Nosferatu, supposing that the character actor Max Schreck (played by Dafoe) actually was a vampire all along. Dafoe is nearly unrecognizeable as the “vampire” Schreck, and Malkovich is perfect as the director. I’ve also just re-watched this scene from the film, in which Malkovich is shooting Eddie Izzard as “Hutter” – it’s a pretty accurate homage, although Izzard isn’t quite as broad. But still, something about Dafoe’s take as Schreck – or maybe the implication that it was real – seems creepier than Schreck as the vampire; while creepiest of all is Malkovich’s turn as the director F. W. Murnau, so obsessed with finishing the picture that he knowingly films Schreck murdering his actress just for the sake of a good take.
One final note – coincidentally, just before I published this review, there was yet another take on Nosferatu. A Brazillian ad agency, who’s had a contract with the Getty film and image library for several years, just launched “The Non-Silent Film“, an interactive website meant to promote Getty’s stock sound library. The site shows a slightly trimmed-down version of Nosferatu, but has painstakingly developed an entire sound design compiled from Getty’s stock clip library – squeaking doors, footsteps, rooster crows, music, crowd chatter. No dialogue – they still use the title cards, and just dub in gibberish for the actors’ talking.