OWF's Greatest Horror Movies By Decades - 1920 (Nosferatu)

In the 1920s those seeds that were planted the decade before took hold, and there are notable examples on both sides of the Atlantic. The most significant of these, and perhaps the most famous, is F.W. Murnau€™s masterpiece, 'Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror'. It is the first of countless adaptations of Bram Stoker€™s 'Dracula', though famously without the permission of the Bram Stoker estate. Although generally included in amongst the Expressionist movement, what€™s startling today is the movie€™s lyrical use of natural light and exterior shots (of running water, animals etc.); in many ways it is in stark contrast to Caligari€™s jagged mindscapes. They both create otherworldliness in different ways, one by giving us distorted images we can relate to, and the other by alienating us with perfectly natural images. The best vampire movies, from this to 'Let the Right One In' (2008) take the myth seriously, and consider the sad reality of a creature who needs human blood to live and can only come out at night (the rules of vampirism change from movie to movie, as suits the plot). Whether they project charm, sex appeal or simply fear they have to address the fact that they want to drink your blood, and when presented with the opportunity find it almost impossible to resist. The Count (here renamed Count Orlok) is played by the aptly named Max Schrek, and while it is Bela Lugosi€™s later performance that inspired the most imitations, this is ultimately the creepier one. His coiling fingers, forever shown in extended shadows, bald head and pointed ears are iconic; there is something half-dead, half-human about his appearance from the start. The movie is full of great moments and sequences, none greater than the haunting voyage from Transylvania to Wisborg (a fictitious German town), including the famous shot of the vampire rising, in one steady movement, upright from his coffin. One of my favourite moments shows the shadow of his hand move over a woman€™s body until it reaches her heart, then clenches shut. The German Expressionist Movement and the horrors it produced (Murnau also did his version of 'Faust' (1926) and a version of 'Jekyll And Hyde' (1920)) in turn influenced Hollywood. The American silent horror movie classics are synonymous with one name: Lon Chaney, the €˜Man of a Thousand Faces,€™ who appeared in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', (1923) 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925 and still the best version), and 'The Hypnotist' (AKA 'London After Midnight', 1927). The latter of these was made by Todd Browning, who went on to make 'Dracula' (1931) and 'Freaks' (1932). Chaney withdrew from the role of Gwnyplaine in Paul Leni€™s 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) leaving the door open for Conrad Veidt to take the role; the protagonist€™s disfigured face, frozen in a permanent smile, would be an influence on Batman€™s nemesis, The Joker. CHECK BACK TOMORROW as the Universal Monsters are born! Previously: 1910 (Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

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Contributor
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I've been a film geek since childhood, and am yet to find a cure. Not an auteurist, but my favourite directors include Robert Altman, Ernst Lubitsch, Welles, Hitch and Kurosawa. I also love Powell & Pressburger movies, anything with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, the space-ballet of 2001, Ealing comedies, subversive genre cinema and that bit in The Producers with the fountain.