Saturday, March 12, 2011

Phil sees NOSFERATU at the California Theatre during Cinequest 21-March 11, 2011

Movies have the power to provoke a wide array of emotions. From tear jerking dramas to hilarious comedies, movies can touch our souls like no other art form. However, films can also tap into our subconscious and surface our most inner fears. Those kinds of emotions can bring on a tidal wave of terror and horror, emotions that you are not prepared for. With this in mind, I went to the beautifully restored California Theatre  in downtown San Jose for the Cinequest 21 Film Festival, where they were showing the 1922 German silent film classic NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORROR.
Original NOSFERATU movie poster
Made by famed German silent film director F.W. Murnau, NOSFERATU is a perfect example of German Expressionism from the 1920's. Using distorted shadows, Gothic sets and locations, the mostly black costumes, and atmospheric mood, these films would go on to have such a strong influence on the Universal horror films of the 1930's, as well as the Film Noir genre. It would also go on to influence the Goth subculture and its music several decades later.

The film is based on Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, however the filmmakers could not secure a copyright agreement with Stoker's Estate. As the result, Murnau had the names of the characters and locations changed to avoid infringement charges. But Stoker's widow didn't approve, so she took to the court system, where the judge ordered all prints of the film to be destroyed. Thankfully the film survived and now lives on as the very first vampire film ever to be made.

The story of the film goes as follows: a real estate agent named Knock sends his assistant Hutter to Transylvania to have some paperwork signed by his new client Count Orlok, who just happened to purchase the old, deserted house right across the street from Hutter. However his innocent wife Ellen senses danger on his journey, and she is correct. From the moment he arrives at the Count's castle, strange occurrences unfold, and when Orlock leaves for his new home, the shroud of death follows him across the sea and to his final destination; Wisbourg, Germany. It is here where the lovely Ellen realizes that only she can put an end the Count's reign of terror.
Max Schreck as Count Orlok in NOSFERATU (1922)

With his rodent-like face, long spider fingers, and soul piercing eyes that will make your skin crawl, Max Shreck's performance as Court Orlock has become an icon in not just silent horror films, but for the horror genre in general. Few can come close to achieve his personification of dread and evil, a creature devoid of humanity and pathos. While the vampire itself has evolved, thanks to actors such as Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, Klaus Kinski (who stared in the 1979 remake), and Willem Dafoe (who protrays Max Schreck in the 2001 film SHADOWS OF THE VAMPIRE), none have come close to capture the feel of death and darkness  as Schreck achieved back in 1922.

This past Friday night's screening of the film was spectacular. A fully restored print was shown, with newly translated subtitles and the color tints for several of the scenes were restored as well. Also the music was fantastic, thanks in large part to the one and only Dennis James, who wrote a magnificent score for the film. I have seen Mr. James play up and down the coast for several years now and he is without question, the most electrifying musician to ever perform on the Mighty Wurlitzer. I am also proud to call Dennis as one of my friends as well.

Today's kids seem to think that vampires are cool, trendy and, with a little bit of sparkles, even sexy. But for a while, vampires were seen as grotesque creatures of the night, ready to suck the very life from you. History has proven that NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORROR still remains as one of the most haunting and terrifying films ever made. After almost 90 years of its release, its power to chill you to the bone has not diminished. That my friends, is what a horror film should be.

NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORROR is available on DVD. To purchase a copy visit 

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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