What's the Story?
Blog Posts from the Irish Club of Alaska
Sean O'Hare, the Irish-Alaskan author of "While Ireland Holds These Graves"
When Natalie Harrison of the Irish Club informed me that the club was looking for something frightening to put on their blog, perhaps for Samhain, I immediately thought of Vlad the Impaler, better known as Dracula. When most people think of Dracula I suspect the film "Dracula," starring Bela Legosi, comes immediately to mind. Most people are not aware that this brilliant film was based on a macabre novel, "Dracula," written by Bram Stoker in 1892. Even fewer people are aware that Bram Stoker was a Dublin man, who I wish was ranked among the other great Irish writers, Oscar Wilde, John Millington Synge, William Butler Yeats, etc., of that time.
One person who carefully read Stoker's novel, and stole it, was the German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, who created the film "Nosferatu," which is widely considered to be one of the greatest silent films of all time and one of the best examples of German Expressionist film. As it happens, "Nosferatu" is being shown this Thursday, September 29, at the Bear Tooth.
Murnau's vampire, Nosferatu, played by Max Schreck, is not a sophisticated man of the night like Bela Legosi's Dracula but an unhappy wretch suffering from an evil curse. He looks as evil as he is, with bat-like ears, claw-like fingernails, and a rodent-looking mouth with fangs in the front instead of the canine fangs that give away most vampires.
Hutter is the totally good looking man, played by Gustav von Wangenheim, assigned by the evil real estate agent, Knock, played by Alexander Granach, to go to Count Orlock's Transylvanian castle and sell the Count, who is actually Nosferatu, a deserted house in Bremen, Germany, which happens to be across the street from where Hutter lives with his angelic young wife Ellen, played by Greta Schroeder. These characters are superb pantomimists, as they must be because, after all, this is a silent film, and their goodness or evil is exaggerated superbly.
Hutter should have become suspicious when Knock slips and refers to Count Orlock as "Master." Other Expressionist images foretell the evil that lies ahead. When Hutter tells the customers in an inn en route that he is on his way to Orlock's, they all fall silent. Outside horses run away and a werewolf, played by a hyena, is on the prowl. The coachman refuses to bring Hutter any further, but a coach, draped in black, and pulled by horses draped in black, appears out of nowhere and brings Hutter to the eerie castle.
That night, as Nosferatu advances demonically on Hutter, Ellen, back in Bremen, and sleepwalking, seemingly under Nosferatu's power, cries out Hutter's name, which awakes him. He escapes the castle and makes his way back to Bremen. Nosferatu also sets out for Bremen except he travels on a sailing ship on the Black Sea; a ghost ship, complete with black sails. The ship's cargo is coffins filled with rats. One coffin contains Nosferatu. All the seamen strangely die at sea. Nevertheless, the ship of death brings itself and Nosferatu to port under its own power. When Nosferatu arrives in Bremen, the townsfolk begin to die. The only thing that can stop this evil is for a good woman to coax the vampire to stay awake until the cock crows. To do this Ellen must sacrifice herself. As Knock said to Ellen: "You cannot escape from your fate." I will not reveal the ending. You must build up your courage and go to the Bear Tooth on Thursday to find out what happens.
This film was made only four years after the Great War and just after the influenza epidemic that killed even more people than the war killed. Germans were quite used to death by the time of this movie. The scene, shot brilliantly from a rooftop, of the townsfolk bringing their dead down a road to be buried was certainly quite familiar to Germans, so the scenes must have been all the more terrifying. The silence of the film, except for its excellent soundtrack, called "A Symphony of Horrors," composed by Hans Erdman, made symbolism, camera angles, the reversals of black and white, the camera shots from above and from below, the facial expressions, etc., all the more profound. This was indeed a horror film, and don't forget, it was stolen from an Irishman, Bram Stoker. If you want to learn more about this film, look for Prof. Toby Widdicombe's next film class at UAA. I suspect "Nosferatu" will be included.
Seethe 100th Anniversary Presentation of "Nosferatu" at the Beartooth Theatrepub, Thursday, September 29, 2022 at 8:30pm.
For tickets and information: https://beartooththeatre.filmbot.com/movies/nosferatu-1922-100-anniversary-presentation/
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