Nosferatu (aka: Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror) is essentially a fan-film! It has the usual characteristics one associates with fan-film productions: low-budget, cringe-worthy acting, and at its core a fan-made telling of an original intellectual property! It was also the first motion picture to portray one of our favorite frightening creatures of the night: the vampire! Celebrate this marvelous fan-film of sorts as it enters its 100th anniversary since its premiere on March 4th of 1922!
One hundred years old… Wow, that feels kind of eerie considering the tale is about a vampire that can live forever!
One way to know that Nosferatu is the same as a fan-film is the fact that it was almost sued into non-existence for copyright infringement! It almost faded away just like Count Orlok!
The culprit behind this move: Bram Stoker’s widow, Florence. Much of the particulars of Nosferatu — character names, locations, etc — were changed to avoid copyright infringement with Stoker’s original work “Dracula”. This movie is still basically the Dracula story; based clearly from it. Word about Nosferatu reached Florence Stoker and she sued Prana Film, the studio behind the movie. Her suit resulted in the order that all copies of Nosferatu be destroyed.
Wow! YouTube copyright bans before YouTube!
However, a few copies of Nosferatu survived and made their way to the United States. After seven years, it finally premiered to American audiences and was a hit! Audiences loved this scary movie and ever since it’s been hailed as a cinematic masterpiece.
I’m not for people stealing original content and repackaging it as theirs to make money; but such was, in my opinion, not the case with Prana Film. Besides, my inner lover of fan-made films sympathizes with Prana Film in its pursuit of setting this horror story to motion picture format.
Now, let’s talk about the locations and sets. Said to have been shot on a very low budget, Nosferatu director F.W. Murnau made up for this by shooting in real locations as often as possible; real valleys and mountains, real buildings. He also used stylized Expressionist — sharp, over-exaggerated angle style — sets; but like many fan-film directors, he worked with what was already around him since money was tight. Imagine your average fan-film shot in run-down warehouses, back-alleys, or even in fields! Similar set-up!
Next we come to the acting quality. True, in many silent era movies the acting style was to over-act! Slow-movements and wide-eyed expressions followed at times by rapid movements… It’s borderline silly how much over-exaggeration of movement or total lack thereof occurs in Nosferatu! But unlike the sometimes wooden acting seen in your average fan-film, this here is considered an art form!
Also unlike most fan-films, the cast and director of Nosferatu were all professionals. F.W. Murnau directed a handful of films before this, and lead actor Max Schreck (Count Orlok himself) had five film acting credits to his name! Many fan-film creators have at least gone to filmmaking school, but are still amateurs. Though some fan-film creators are truly gifted and you’d never know they were beginners; the actors though, again, do not always appear professional in their performances.
Despite being recognized as legit cinema for many years, when you know the story of the production qualities and near dissolution of Nosferatu under copyright dispute it is so hard not to compare this work to the average fan-film. It is indeed a fan-film, but made with care of professionals in the field; much like any work from, let’s say, Bat in the Sun Productions and its numerous high-quality superhero-related fan-films.
In the end, Nosferatu is truly a sensational cinematic masterpiece which deserves recognition for its being the first vampire movie; let alone being the first to say vampires die when hit by sunlight (yeah, no-one else said that before this movie)! At 100 years-old, the movie still creeps us out — mostly with the exaggerated acting — and for a fan-film it stands the test of time. See it and revel in the horror!
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