Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Dracula Adaptations | Nosferatu (1922)

Who's in it?: Max Schreck (Batman Returns), Greta Schröder (Der Golem)

What's it about?: This unauthorized German adaptation changes the names of the characters, the setting (England has become just another town in Eastern Europe), the ending, and even the metaphors.

How is it? (SPOILERS): I rarely judge film adaptations anymore on how faithful they are to their source material. And Nosferatu is a perfect example of why that is. It is very much not Bram Stoker's novel, but it's the most legitimately chilling, scary version of the story I've seen. It doesn't bother me that the monster is now an allegory for the plague instead of a metaphor for sexual seduction. And I don't even really mind the story problems created by messing around with some of the characters.

For example, Harker's boss from the novel is combined with Renfield to become a madman named Knock. In this version, Harker is named Hutter and his boss has not only been in contact with Orlok (Dracula), but apparently knows that he's sending Hutter to his doom when he goes to Transylvania. In the novel, Dracula doesn't begin to affect Renfield until Dracula arrives in England, but in Nosferatu, Orlok controls Knock from afar. The film never explains how this happens.

And then there's Professor Bulwer, the Van Helsing character, who has no purpose in the movie. Really, Van Helsing and Dr Seward almost don't exist in this version. Oddly, they're two separate characters (Van Helsing becomes Bulwer; Seward becomes a Professor Sievers), but they're generic, interchangeable characters with only minor lip service paid to Bulwer's having any experience in the supernatural. Bulwer certainly doesn't contribute to Orlok's defeat. That's 100% Ellen (the Mina character, played by Greta Schröder), who sends Hutter to find Bulwer just to get Hutter out of the house so that Ellen can do what she needs to do. Bulwer doesn't even directly interact with any other characters until that last scene and even then it's only to observe.

Some other changes are less of a problem. Hutter is mostly the same as Harker and his wife Ellen is an excellent version of Mina. Arthur Holmwood has become Harding, a wealthy ship owner who's a friend of Hutter/Harker. Hutter sends Ellen to Harding's to live while Hutter goes to Transylvania. Standing in for Lucy is Harding's sister (not his fiancée as in Stoker), Ruth.

Ruth/Lucy doesn't play as big a role in the movie as she does in the novel. Ellen/Mina is the main focus of Orlok's obsession. There's a hint that Ruth could be experiencing some weirdness, but Orlock is defeated before anything comes of that.

Like the novel, Ellen/Mina is the one who best figures out what's going on and understands how to defeat Orlok/Dracula. But in the film, Ellen learns that the only way to do this is to sacrifice herself, willingly letting the count feed on her until daybreak so that he's trapped and destroyed by the sun. It's a horrible, but emotional fate for her and I'm always moved by it no matter how many times I've seen the film. Ellen is such an interesting character: extremely sensitive and seemingly irrationally paranoid, but her fears are proved prophetic 100% of the time. She more than makes up for any issues I have with Knock and Bulwer.

And when I consider just how strong the visual style of Nosferatu is, I can't even see flaws anymore. Orlok is so utterly horrifying (thanks both to Max Schreck's performance and the way director FW Murnau shot him), that nothing else matters.

Rating: Five out of five Minas


Caffeinated Joe said...

Utterly terrifying is right. I can't imagine how many people were scarred by this when they saw it way back then! Which is almost 100 years ago now!

Michael May said...

Holy cow. That's right!


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