Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror Review

This was my highlight of the 2011 Fringe. If you ever get the chance to see Nosferatu with a live score, take it.

Nosferatu may no longer have the capacity to scare, but when mixed with an original score performed in front of you this film can still creep you out, and leave you with an eerie feeling as you leave the cinema that modern horror can’t match.

This 1922 silent film is a retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with enough details changed in a failed attempt to avoid a lawsuit, but it also adds its own touches to the vampire legend. From a film buff’s perspective it’s interesting to see all these aspects that have since become cliché used without irony. Doors open by themselves, locals are terrified by strange stories, and the non-vampiric main character thinks nothing bad will come from travelling to a castle in Transylvania to sell a mysterious count a house in his village. The film is a must see by itself, but the music accompanying it changes Nosferatu from a historical curio to something much creepier.

The score has been written by South Australia’s own Matthew Timmis, and along with a small orchestra and a choir he creates an atmosphere that intensifies what we see on screen, as well as what we don’t. While we don’t see Nosferatu bite into his victims, the image of him creeping steadily forwards can be just as scary, and Timmis is a master of knowing when to use silence and when to let rip with the full band. The choir is most obvious during the scenes between the protagonist and his wife, and manage to bring humanity to the film that isn’t possible with the dialogue cards.

One issue with the film’s presentation was the heavy pixilation due to the use of a digital projector. Obviously this is easier than using film, but the film was worn enough as it is, and the pixilation just made things worse. The film could look so much better at an old-style cinema, instead of the digital projection that was used.

The idea of an original score to Nosferatu isn’t new, but Timmis and his orchestra do it so well that seeing the film without this score would just not feel the same. Anyone with a passing interest in the origins of horror should make this a must-see, as Nosferatu proves that you don’t need violence to scare, just unblinking eyes and dark shadows.

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