Thursday, February 06, 2020

The Nosferatu Story: The Seminal Horror, Its Predecessors and Its Enduring Legacy – review

Author: Rolf Giesen

First Published: 2018

The Blurb: Director F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, made in 1921, right after the devastating Spanish Flu pandemic, has become the ultimate cult classic among horror film buffs around the world. For years there was much speculation about the production background, the filmmakers, and their star, the German actor Max Schreck. This book tells the complete story drawing on rare sources. The trail leads to a group of occultists and their plan for establishing a leading film company that would produce a momentous series of horror movies. Along the way, the author touches upon other classic German fantasy silents, including The Golem, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Metropolis.

The review: Giesen’s book is a love letter to the film Nosferatu (and also to the wider expressionist cinema) and, despite a hefty price tag (it’s an academic publication), is a treasure trove of information but that trove isn’t as full as it might be in some ways and too full in others.

If I have two criticisms of this, the first would be that it sometimes wanders off into such trivia as was unnecessary – at least to me. Putting context for a modern reader of the wider Weimar film industry was not only appropriate but welcomed but sometimes that context became, perhaps, too detailed for a reader interested in a very narrow slice. It isn’t that this was wrong, per se, but it was not as engaging as it might be at times as I felt that I was wading through trivia to get to the subject I wanted to read about.

The second criticism is that the love letter is to Nosferatu, the original film, and the exploration of its legacy was perhaps a tad spottier. Giesen was honest enough to admit that he did not care overly for Nosferatu – the Vampyre (even I describe it as love it or hate it, personally being in the former camp) but did offer detail and the views of someone who did appreciate the film. On the other hand Shadow of the Vampire gets scant love and, whilst the author’s opinion is his own and valid, could have been explored more. However, worst are the missing elements – the clan Nosferatu in the massively influential Vampire the Masquerade were inspired by Shreck’s makeup, plus if one lists the unreleased remix then one also has to list the awful Orlock the Vampire in 3D and missing a direct tribute like Petyr in What We Do in the Shadows is a sin.

Those criticisms I think are fair but that does not mean that the book is bad. It offers much for the fan of the film, but I have read better monographs dedicated to a vehicle. Nevertheless 7 out of 10.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

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