Guest Editorial: 'Why Nosferatu Scares The Hell Out of Me'

By: Josh Figueroa

I have a fear of staring. I can endure any horror movie one can throw at me just do not toss in staring. I can handle creepy kids. But don't have the little bastards stare silently at the camera - I just can't handle it! It is unnerving and disturbs me to no end. The new Evil Dead has a scene where a possessed character is staring off to the side in a mirror and they do a quick shot to it and hold it for a few seconds. Freaked me out. I squirmed and fidgeted for a few minutes as it was burned into my head. And it was such a throwaway moment but it stuck with me. Anytime there is a character staring through a window or right at the camera, I become unhinged. That's what horror movies are supposed to achieve, right?

I'm unsure when this bizarre fear came into effect. I guess it could stem from a childhood incident when I lived in Florida. I lived in the only house on the road and we barely had any streetlights. We had a floodlight for the backyard because of how pitch black it would become at night. The darkness was engulfed by its own darkness. Unless it was a full moon out, you were screwed. Anyway, one time I was walking around the living room and I look towards the kitchen as I felt something was not right. There in full view was my cousin staring through the window. She had cupped her hands on the window so her face was slightly darkened by the floodlight outside and all I saw was HUGE eyes staring at me with a evil Cheshire-Cat-like grin. I screamed. I screamed loudly. My entire body had a shockwave explode all over and I really felt like I was going to fall over from a heart attack at 11 years old. I pretty much experienced a momentary lapse of sanity as if I had witnessed Cthulhu rise from the depths. You get the idea. She eventually came in the house laughing but feeling pretty bad at nearly scaring me to death. Or maybe not, maybe she felt it was a good giggle. *sigh* 

Fast forward to a few years and I had picked up Nosferatu on DVD. Now I had seen bits and bobs of it via Halloween/horror movie specials on TV when they discuss the history of such things. I had always wanted to watch it since I saw Count Orlock rise up from the coffin like, well, a vampire. I was perfectly fine with him popping out of the coffin. But it was two things in particular that drove, The Fear back into my heart. The first incident is . . .you guessed it, a window scene. Never blinking. Never changing facial expressions, just that deathly glare. It is as if there is no life behind his eyes and all he wants to do is end your life. 

Now while it may not look too bad, to me it brought back that horrible memory of my cousin looking through the window at me. The only difference is hand-placement and she had an evil grin on her face. Yet the same deathly stare and I am pretty sure she transformed to Nosferatu at that moment. Okay that last line was a lie but it helps me feel like less of a candy-ass to think that she was a secret vampire.

The other horrible scene is our good friend Count Orlock standing innocently in an archway. Maybe he was taking a breather from a night of murdering people or perhaps he was just enjoying the view of London from where he stood. Either way, he scared the ever-living shit out of me and I wanted nothing more than for him to die on the spot in an explosion of sorts so I did not have to look at him burn. Just explode in pieces of blood and entrails. Begone vampyre! Begone! 

Look at that sonofabitch! He seriously wants nothing more than to scare me to death before he even sinks his rat-like teeth into my neck! Maybe not - maybe he just wants to have a chat about the local sports team and some tea. Whatever it may be, I don't trust him!

On top of the fact that Nosferatu is a brilliant movie, it is silent. S.I.L.E.N.T. That means that in addition to his deathly stare, the jerk doesn't even have the common decency to talk (Yes, I'm aware it was before "talkies" were invented, turn your brain off and enjoy my comedy)! I can imagine what he must sound like as well - I figure he has a raspy, "death rattle" way of breathing. He is obviously a mouth breather, as his mouth is never closed. Just imagine hearing that thing lurching in your room. Ugh.

Regardless, Nosferatu for all its pants-hitting glory of German stares is one of my favorite movies. The makeup work for that time is mind-blowing. Director F.W. Murnau used the lighting and shadows to his advantage. Obviously, most copies are grainy and, well, silent-film looking, but it really is a filmmaker's workshop on using set pieces and shadows to create the mood. Just the shot of Orlock creeping up the stairs is iconic yet so painfully simple that anyone with a camera can create that sense of dread by just shooting a shadow. Most don't take advantage of simple methods as, in this current world of film, they feel the most extreme and off-kilter camera work is what will be the best. It may stand out but sometimes back to basics is what works well.

If you haven't seen the movie, I must ask, "Why?" and "If your only exposure is when they put a static image in Spongebob, my heart weeps for you.” It's streaming on YouTube as it is public domain (I think) and as with most silent pictures it is relatively short. So on a slow afternoon, you can watch this flick with no problem. And the fact that it is silent - except for the numerous soundtrack variations (Type O Negative even contributed to an alternate soundtrack once) - means you can watch it without blaring the speakers. Hell, set it to your own soundtrack - the choice is yours, pal! Do what you want. I won't judge you. And neither does Count Orlock...

Ugh, look at it! (shudders)

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