“Lisa, vampires are make-believe, just like elves, gremlins, and eskimos.”
— Homer Simpson
While they are indeed fictional (unlike the very real eskimos), that does not make vampires any less fascinating. For over a century, we have seen Vampires as not only monsters, but charmers, cereal mascots, teen heart throbs, superheroes (it was announced not long ago that Blade would make his appearance in the MCU), and muppets that helped us count as kids (“Von!” “Two!”…)
Of course, Dracula is the most popular of vampires, but before the likes of Chrisopher Lee in the 1950s and even before the pinnacle performance of Bela Legosi in the 1930s, german filmmaker F.W. Murnau made Nosferatu: A Symphony of Evil. The story is an unauthorized version of Dracula, which resulted in a lawsuit that ordered all copies of the film to be destroyed. Thankfully (in probably the best example to show support for film preservation), a few copies still remained, and the film still survives (even for free on youtube.)
While it has been a long time since I read Bram Stoker’s novel, the story of Nosferatu stays close to the story, despite some changes (most notably that, while Dracula is only weakened by sunlight in the novel, this film shows that sunlight is able to kill vampires). In the year 1838, an estate agent named Herr Knock (Alexander Granach) sends his young associate Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangeheim) to Transylvania to visit a new client looking for a new house in Hutter’s (fictional) town of Wisborg. The new client is Count Orlok (Max Schreck).
Nosferatu was one of the first films to dive in German Expressionism (the other was 1920s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), while (along with Caligari) being one of the first horror films ever made. The sets (especially the ones we see of a drummer reporting official news to the townspeople) may not look like much today, but back then it must have been bizarre and a wonder to anyone in any language (the film would not be released in the US until 1929). The “darkness” of these films, as well as the much later Metropolis (1927), would not be hard to understand, since it was around the end of the first World War for Germany.
While modern day audiences would think of Vampires as attractive, the film’s Count Orlok is anything but that. One look at him and you are immediately repulsed. Rather than a suave bachelor, he is more like a diseased rat (notice his teeth, which are much closer than you would think for a vampire). He has widened eyes that rarely blink (much like Anthony Hopkins did with Hannibal Lecter decades later in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs), giving the appearance of someone under a horrible sickness. Basically, it shows that being a vampire is not all fun and games; it really sucks (there was no other way to say it).
This is in large part due to the performance of Max Schreck as Count Orlok. Isn’t it scary, how nearly a century later the only think that the name of the actor sounds almost as creepy as the character he plays? Even with very little screen time, the presence of Orlok is always there (again, like Hannibal Lecter).
While there is (obviously) no sound in the film, there is one moment where Orlok sees a picture of Hutter’s wife Helen (Greta Schroder), and remarks that she has a “lovely neck”. I don’t care how old a movie is or in what language: that is spine tingling as any thing I can think of. It is only exemplified when you see accompanied by the shadowy eyes of the Count.
Parents, the movie is indeed rather creepy still for kids who are too young to read, but I would think the “PG” age might be okay. There is no nudity or anything like that.
Normally, I tend to stay away from modern day horror movies. It is not due to not wanting to be scared, but because I have seen enough movies to know when most scares will come up, especially the “jump” scares. The best of horror films (Psycho, The Exorcist, The Shining) are ones that dive deeper into our inner beings of dread that keep us on edge (to an extent) after the film is over.
Nosferatu is in that category, and has aged like the finest of wines, still quenching the thirst of cinephiles.