Saturday, October 30, 2010

Horror Classic Soup: Nosferatu & Phantom of the Opera


Rupert Julian's 1925 silent classic retelling of the infamous Leroux novel delves wondrously into the world of everyone's favorite Phantom painting a more dark and violent portrait of the man.

In Julian's tale the Phantom, played by shape-shifting mastermind Lon Chaney, is not the sympathetic antihero, so much as a dark, disturbed, and vile thing whose life has become a thing of shadows and hate.

Erik, the phantom, is driven by two things in life - his distaste for other men and his love for opera singer Christine (Mary Philbin). Christine finds Erik alluring, in his secrecy, but is disgusted once his true figure is revealed. Erik's plea that he is what the world made him are rejected by Christine, and the tale becomes more about Christine's desire to return to her love, and flee this despicable monster, than a tale of torn romance.

Julian's tale sacrifices some of the more romantic undertones of the novel (albeit due to screening results) in preference of more action and adventure. This creates a more thrilling and compelling film, but I fear it loses some of the romantic beauty of the tale.

I can say as silent films age Phantom of the Opera has aged modestly. Some of its more silent-era dynamics, in terms of acting, may come off more cheesy than intended for those less familiar with silent films. All in all though, nothing that will lead its viewer anywhere near the off button.

Overall Score: 8.00/10


Loosely based on the novel 'Dracula' by Bram Stoker, F.W. Murnau's tale of real estate agent Hutter's (Gustav von Wagenheim) encounter with the mysterious Count Orlak, Nosferatu (Max Schreck), is an engrossing adventure/horror tale.

Separated by Acts, Nosferatu relies equally on adventure and chase sequences as it does on eerie circumstances, and groundbreaking (for their day) effects, to gain the thrills necessary. The use of shadows, lighting, and a stare from Schreck that could launch a thousand fears, strikes an unsettling feeling into the viewer. A feeling that darkness and death are immeninent.

This feeling is supported by a wonderfully well laid out lore to Nosferatu. Nosferatu carries with him the Black Death destroying any town he visits. He can only be destroyed by the sacrifice of a young maid. The way his shadow always looms ahead of his movements, assuming he moves at all.

Murnau and Galeen give great weight to the original Stoker narrative, while still supplying their own spin on the tale. Nosferatu is as much about the destination as it is the journey. The mystery in the world, which has been liberally taken from since its creation, still carries the same wonder today as it did then. Schrek's Nosferatu is still as creepy and unnerving as ever, always supplying the viewer with more to fear.

Overall Score: 8.50/10

6 better thoughts:

Alex said...

I still haven't seen the original Phantom of the Opera (I didn't like the stage musical very much so I've never been drawn to its other incarnations) but I guess I should really get to it one day huh?

Nosferatu is so interesting- my first silent film, actually! I love the color filters, experimental special effects, and creepy performance from Schreck, even if the lady (whose name escapes me at the moment) is comically overdramatic and useless.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Nosferatu is still the best vampire film ever made. Everything about it is effectively creepy and memorable.

SugaryCynic said...

Nosferatu always has and always will creep the living hell out of me. So good!

Simon said...

Nosferatu rocks hard.

Univarn said...

@Alex You may like it. It's a bit dated in some areas, and definitely relies a bit more on the shock of Lon Chaney's character for the scares than the overall vibe, but I dug it.

@AlexJ/Sugary/Simon (Is it just me or does Sugary Simon sound absolutely delicious?... anywho) Nosferatu was great, and I'm glad it was fun as well. I wouldn't have been able to stand it if it was played straight, but it seemed to embrace all its varying elements - from adventures to cheese.

Simon said...

Yes, it would be awesome, but brand merging is always so complicated.

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