Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Nosferatu is 90 and he hasn't lost his edge

I still vividly remember the first time I saw Nosferatu. Over a decade ago, a friend and I were looking through a newspaper and saw that Nosferatu would be playing in a local theater around Halloween. Excitedly, we went over to the theater to buy some tickets, only to be told that the show was sold out. As we walked towards the street in a disappointed way, we ran into a man who was leaning over the trunk of his car. The whole trunk was filled with tickets. I'm assuming he's the one who put the show together, but who knows. He seemed reluctant to sell us any tickets, but he did anyway. I guess since he could tell we really wanted to go!

The theater in this story is The Oriental Theatre, one of the few remaining movie theaters in Milwaukee that was built during the 1920s. The theater is still decorated in the same glamorous fashion as it was in 1927.

You're looking at the room I first watched Nosferatu in. The Oriental Theatre normally has an organ player who rises up with the organ from below the stage. It's awesome to see. In this case, there were huge drums. So I saw my first silent movie in a theater while listening to the rumbling of live percussion!

I just managed to find the old advertisement for Nosferatu and my ticket from the show. It appears that I watched this movie on the year of its 75th anniversary. Wow, time flies! It also appears that I was present on the only night Nosferatu was ever shown at The Oriental Theatre.

I also found an old newspaper clipping about the night I was there. It turns out that The Alloy Orchestra used found objects as part of their percussion. Any piece of metal that produced the most fitting sound was used - even an old bedpan.

To give you an idea of what my experience was like, here's a trailer for The Alloy Orchestra's performance at another theater:

Seeing the vampire, Nosferatu on the big screen is a much scarier experience than seeing him on a TV screen. Max Schreck, the actor who played Nosferatu had naturally large, expressive eyes. Obviously, the shape of his nose and ears were changed, but a lot of that spookiness naturally came from somewhere inside him. On the left is Max Schreck in his human form:

An interesting piece of trivia is that "Schreck" means fright or terror in German. I guess that's why the Ogre Schrek has his name. Some people assumed that Max Schreck had changed his name to fit the Nosferatu role, but that wasn't the case.

There are other creepy characters in the movie, aside from Nosferatu. One is Knock (who you know as Renfield) This time he's a spooky imp-like business man.


A lot of names had to be changed for Nosferatu, since Murnau did not get the rights to Dracula from Bram Stoker's family. Count Dracula became "Count Orlock", Jonathan Harker became "Hutter", and Mina became "Ellen".

If you'd like to watch Nosferatu in its entirety, here it is:

I've been having a bit of a Nosferatu movie marathon lately. After not watching the movie in over a decade, I strangely chose to watch Nosferatu on the exact night of its 90th anniversary! This is strange, because I wasn't aware that March 4th was the day Nosferatu opened. I just now read that Nosferatu opened on March 4, 1922 in Berlin. What are the chances? This was my first time watching the movie on DVD.

Watching Nosferatu in my living room was a much different experience from watching it in a theater. As I mentioned before, the Nosferatu I saw in the theater was accompanied by booming live percussion. The DVD featured the original soundtrack the audience would have heard in a theater 90 years ago. (Hans Erdmann's 1922 score) It was orchestral and dramatic in places. You can get a feel for the music by listening to this sampler:

Samples of the original Nosferatu score

Nosferatu is a silent movie with subtitles, so any added music or sound effects make a huge difference in how you feel watching it.

Another noticeable DVD difference was that the overall color of the film changed with nearly every scene change! It was kind of distracting, but true to form. I learned that back in the day of silent films, the film was often tinted to show a change of mood. So if something happy was happening, everything might look golden. Then there might be an abrupt change to blue during a sad scene. The movie was shown entirely in black and white when I saw it in the theater.

This is how drastic the color changes on the DVD were:

I guess people were used to this 90 years ago, but it was really jarring for me. My eyes were trying to adjust to the color change, while I tried to guess why this was even happening. Was the picture blue because something sad was happening, or was it night all of a sudden? Here's one of my favorite scenes from Nosferatu, complete with color changes:

This clip demonstrates one of the funniest things about old silent movies. They seem kind of slow paced, until they become incredibly fast paced. The film sometimes speeds up to a funny degree, like when Nosferatu is moving his coffins. I love how he's able to magically just hop into one and direct the lid to float on top of him!

Directly after watching Nosferatu, I watched Shadow of the Vampire. This is sort of a what-if movie starring Willem Dafoe as Nosferatu and John Malkovich as the director, Murnau. Eddie Izzard is in there too. So this one is full of great stars and is one of the more intense vampire movies I've seen. It's as close to realistic as a vampire movie can get. Nothing here is glossed over or romanticized. Willem Dafoe is perfect as the classic Nosferatu, and adds a few tricks of his own. Max Schreck's eyes were haunting, while Willem Dafoe's are straight out terrifying.

Shadow of the Vampire is a very raw movie - at times it's even uncomfortable to watch. I felt like there were several messages in the plot. It made me think about the sacrifices people are willing to make for their creative projects. Some people might allow others to be hurt or even let go of their values, if it brought them success. Which is pretty much what happens here. Several times during the movie, I asked myself, "What would I do in this situation?"

Believe it or not, it took a lot of work to find an embeddable trailer of Shadow of the Vampire! So, I'm happy to be able to share this with you guys:

Once you've watched the creepfest that is Nosferatu, and the dark compulsion in Shadow of the Vampire, you'll be ready for some lighter entertainment. So, on a much lighter note...



  1. What a great blog post. I'm sure that seeing Nosferatu in such an amazing venue for the first time really made a serious impact. It's already such a scary movie. And Shadow of the Vampire is so amazing as well. Awesome article, one of the better ones I've read in a while. :)

  2. I don't know what the fuck to say about that last video. Is the guy serious...?

  3. Oh my God! I've just had a total "DUH" moment! It has never occurred to me before that Max Schreck from 'Batman Returns' was obviously named after the actor from 'Nosferatu'. Especially interesting when you say the name "Shreck" means fright or terror in German, and obviously Max Shreck was a bad guy.

    Unbelievably, I have never seen 'Nosferatu'. It must have been wonderful to see it in the glamourous surroundings of The Oriental Theatre! I had to smile at the golden picture of Count Orlock because that scene is used in an episode of 'Spongebob Squarepants'.

    Wow! I've never heard of 'Shadow of the Vampire'. Looks like I've got a bit of catching up to do! It looks very intriguing!

  4. PS: That should be "Max Shreck" from 'Batman Returns' and "Max Schreck" the actor from 'Nosteratu, and "Schreck" in German. I'm all over the place. Haha.

    Just found this on Wikipedia:

    "Scriptwriter Daniel Waters created the character Max Shreck for the film Batman Returns and compared him to the character Max Schreck played in Nosferatu. Variety claimed the name was an in-joke. Shreck was a character created exclusively for the movie, absent from the comics, and serves as one of the main antagonists."

  5. Ah, but what Nosferatu-fest is complete without a screening of Werner Herzog's Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht? Klaus Kinski's got the crazy eyes sumthin' fierce. Definitely worth your time.

  6. +1 on the Werner Herzog. I think there's something of his in the Whitney Biennial, as well.

    I've never heard of Shadow of the Vampire, which really bothers me- Eddie Izzard, y'all! Gotta watch that one. Willem Dafoe is always so creepy.

    Thanks for this one. Lots of new info! And Nosferatu in the theater like that? Amazing.

  7. The blue picture is my favorite one, it's a nice piece of artwork!

    The lady GaGa video is fantastic, people are so creative and expressive! There is such a fine line between "dark" and humorous.

  8. Lady Bethezda ~ Thank you! :) Yes, it did make a serious impact on me. I might not even be such a Nosferatu fan if I saw that movie on DVD for the first time. Some of the parts don't hold up, like the weird overacting and goofy makeup on Hutter and Ellen, but Nosferatu is still plenty eerie as he peeks around corners and slowly walks through doorways. Seeing his eyes dart or his shadow lurk across the movie screen is a very spooky experience. Thanks so much for your sweet comments. :)

    Erik ~ Oh, yes. This is serious performance art... Just kidding, although it makes more sense than some actual performance art I've witnessed. I've watched that video three or four times now and it just keeps getting more funny! Added bonuses are his hair peeking out of that swimming cap and the Chriss Angel shirt he's sporting. :)

    Little Gothic Horrors ~ That's right! Isn't that a fun piece of trivia? The Max Schreck name in 'Batman Returns' is a nice villainous shout-out. Christopher Walken was pretty evil in that movie too...

    Oh, yes. It was so fortunate to be able to watch that movie in a beautiful old theater. The theater is nearly Nosferatu's age! Somehow, acquiring the tickets in a weird way added a neat element to an already awesome theater experience.

    I had to look up the Sponge Bob clip and I can see why you had a smile on your face. :)

    I really recommend Shadow of the Vampire. Actually, I find myself recommending it a lot, since hardly anyone has seen it! I wonder if it's one of those more artistic movies that exists somewhere under the radar? Even though there are big stars in it!

    Marvin ~ I just looked up Werner Herzog's Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, and that does look like some necessary viewing. From what I could tell, the original names from Bram Stoker's Dracula are used with the imagery from Nosferatu in this. I guess by this point, the copyrights have worn out on Bram Stoker's Dracula. So far I really like the movie's poster!

    I just watched the trailer and it looks well filmed. I liked how his silhouette slowly moved through that cave-like entrance. It seems like every man who plays Nosferatu has a little of his personality come through the makeup/prosthetics.

    Pensive Pumpkin ~ I responded to that movie in the comment above, so part of that answer is for you too. Some of his videos are being shown for that event?

    Oh, don't be bothered by not knowing about Shadow of the Vampire. Despite the big stars, it's not very mainstream. I wouldn't have heard of the movie, except I ran into it while wandering around the DVD section of the library. It looked like it needed to be watched. :)

    Yeah, Eddie Izzard seemed like a random addition to the movie, but he did really well in his part. Shadow of the Vampire is worth watching, purely for Willem Dafoe's performance. You won't be able to take your eyes off him.

    Glad you learned something new from this post! Oh yeah. I was very fortunate to be able to experience Nosferatu in a theater setting like that. I believe that theater only showed Nosferatu twice.

    Matt ~ I agree, that still photo is a work of art! Sometimes just the cropped scene from a movie can be very artistic. Something I love about that photo is the way his shadow is starting to stretch and bend along the wall. His claw-like hands look even creepier! They might not have had a lot of special effects in 1922, but they knew how to work with light and shadows!

    I thought that video was creative too. It was also really unexpected. I ran into that while trying to find some other Nosferatu videos. It's fun to watch someone just let loose and have fun. It was a pretty fearless performance. :)

  9. Hello ...Dr. Theda here ... Nosferatu has been one of my main monsters since early childhood ...(Images and the occasional film clip) I did not get to watch this movie until the mid-90's I also love DeFoe's performance....
    Why did you make no mention of Klaus Kinski's 1979 version??

  10. Hahaha love the clip of dancing Nosferatu.. who knew he was a fan of Chris Angel?!

    I wish I could have watched Nosferatu for the first time in the same way as you did.. it sounded amazing! I bet that left a great impression on you when you left that beautiful theatre.

    I haven't seen Shadow of the Vampire before but thanks for sharing, I'll have to find that online to watch sometime as it does sound good!

    I'm going to be watching The Bat with Vincent Price tomorrow so I think i'll come back here after and watch Nosferatu as I don't own it on DVD and haven't watched it for years and years!! xx

  11. Dr. Theda ~

    Defoe's performance was the best I've seen from an actor in a while. He made me forget that he was a man playing a vampire. He made me almost believe in the creature he was portraying. Just amazing! I think he was having a good time with that role, too.

    I made no mention of Klaus Kinski's Nosferatu, because I hadn't even heard of it. Now that you and a few other people have brought it to my attention, I'm going to check it out. I've been enjoying seeing every actor's different rendition of the monster.

    VainGlorySinner ~ Haha! I know, right? I guess I can imagine a modern Nosferatu being a Chriss Angel fan. I mean, Chriss is kind of spooky acting in his way. There was something about that guy wearing a t-shirt with another person's abs on it, that just cracked me up!

    Oh, I was really lucky to see Nosferatu in the way I did. I keep hoping that The Oriental will bring Nosferatu back for another showing. I've meant to dig up the tickets I saved from the show and add a photo of them to this post. Seeing any movie at The Oriental is a magical experience, but this was extra cool.

    Let me know what you think of Shadow of the Vampire after you watch it! I'm not sure if that movie is a fit for everyone's taste, but no one can deny that it's creepy!

    I haven't watched The Bat in some time. I'm such a Vincent Price person, that I've probably watched all of his films. Some of them blend together a bit, so I should re-watch that one. I was excited to see that Nosferatu was offered in its entirety online! There might be a few ads you have to sit through, but otherwise - what a deal. :) Hopefully, you're able to watch it full screen. Let me know what you think!

  12. Great Post. I have been to that theater. I would love to see this movie on the big screen with a live orchestra. Another fun way to watch this movie is with Type O Negative as the music. The Gothic music fits very well. And its hosted by David Carradine. The print is cleaned up a little I do not remember any color shifting well blue or red any way.

  13. It Came From The Man Cave ~

    Thank you! :) Hey, that's cool! I always forget that you're in my relative neck of the woods. Was the organ played when you were there?

    Yes, I was very fortunate to catch this movie at The Oriental. What an experience! I think they played Nosferatu at The Times Cinema this year, but as you probably know that's not the same experience. It's still an old theater, but not in a fancy way. I think I read that the owner of The Times Cinema is also the owner of the Nosferatu film I watched.

    I didn't know about the Type O Negative/Nosferatu collaboration. That sounds like a good match. So, it's sort of like The Wizard of Oz/Pink Floyd routine? David Carradine as well! That sounds worth checking out.

    Well, the color shifting Nosferatu I watched was on a remastered DVD from 2007. So maybe the color has only recently been changed back to how it was in 1922.