3. Nosferatu (1922)
A sparse, visually chilling interpretation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula (though famously made without the permission of the Bram Stoker estate), director F.W. Murnau’s nightmare on celluloid benefits endlessly from the performance of Max Schreck as Graf Orlok Nosferatu, wearing some of the most iconic facial make-up ever seen in a horror film.
Nearly 100 years after its release, Nosferatu still holds up surprisingly well. Taking into account that it is of the silent era, and that subsequent horror films were able to learn from this one and mold more effective ways of frightening an audience, Nosferatu is not so much scary anymore as it is a valuable milestone in the history of cinema. It is additionally a fascinating study of mood and carefully constructed mise en scène, using shadows, mirrors, and a gloom-induced set design to weave a weighty sense of impending doom.
This vampire incarnation had no superhuman strength, powers of flight or transformation to scare its audiences, what it did have was extremely effective imagery. It was the moments in the film when you could only see a silhouette, shadow or glimpse of the monster that were truly unsettling. The most famous scene of the Nosferatu quietly skulking up the stairs still evokes feelings of uneasiness when watched or even just looked at.
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