Revival and Vampires - The Live Showing of 'Nosferatu' at the Abbeydale Picture House

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There is No Place Better to Experience the 1920s Gothic Masterpiece of 'Nosferatu' Than in a Crumbling Old Cinema on Halloween...

I've never been a social butterfly when it comes to Halloween, nor am I much of a film buff on horror films as I am, on the whole, a big sissy. But this year I wanted to really get into the spirit and waded into some of our oldest horror movies for the first time. After prepping myself with Bela Lugosi's Dracula, I had decided make a special effort and headed out with a friend to experience the even older version of the Dracula story Nosferatu.

What was special about this particular showing of Nosferatu was that it would be an authentic experience. The famous silent film was accompanied by a live piano, as it would have been back in the 1920s and played on 35mm film so that, as we watched the images and music was accompanied by the soft audible whir of the projector. The film itself showed the original (often strange) colour tinting and title designs, as restored by the Munich Film Museum and La Cineteca de Bologna. To top it all off, it was situated in the beautifully dilapidated surroundings of the AbbeyDale Picture House, which itself opened in 1920.

Currently the picture house is being renovated as a dedicated 'Picture House Revival' team attempt to make it a real community centre for Sheffield's residents. It's a long process so when we walked in on halloween evening to watch the film the whole cinema has a cobbled together and dilapidated charm that added to the eerie beauty and independant feel. We settled down on thrift-shop sofas behind rows of salvaged cinema seats as the arches of the gallery area cocooned us, empty but for the lurking figure of  a brilliantly realised version of Count Orlock peering down at us. With the mood set the film began, and I have to admit that I was impressed. While I have attended live demonstrations of silent films before (such as Charlie Chaplain's 'Gold Rush' played at Firth Hall), the cinema acoustics were spot on, and the softly spooky surroundings made the showing very special indeed.

So how good a film is Nosferatu?
My cosy spot in the picture house

The film was effectively an adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, but the director Murnau was refused the rights by Stoker's estate. He therefore tweaked the names and locations, setting it in Bremen and changing the title character to Count Orlock. Unsurprisingly, Stoker's widow sued, preventing the 1925 London premiere (even if the rest continued) and, eventually, succeeding in an order for all copies of the film to be burnt. Nosferatu, then, is a rare survivor and was not appreciated as a masterpiece until well after the director's death.

Certainly, Nosferatu is hailed as one of the very first horror films and deserves it's classic title on this alone, but has it stood up to the test of time?

To answer that I really have to compare it to the film that I was introduced to before it - Bela Lugosi's famous Dracula. Which works best as a horror film? 
As much as it pains me, given what an icon of pop culture Lugosi's Dracula is (and how much I enjoyed the film), I have to come down on the side of Nosferatu. That it's a silent film already adds to the creepiness, but throughout Nosferatu there is a palpable sense of dread that isn't so much shown in Dracula. Orlock is an unsettling creature - single minded and lurking - and you really feel the anxiety and desperation of Harker (ahem) Hutter and his wife as Orlock follows them home and plagues their dreams.
Plague is the key here: rather than Dracula's main character being a charismatic -if corrupting- influence, Orlock is instead a symbol of illness and numerous comparisons are shown in the film between his influence and the Black Death. The villagers die in droves, scapegoats are hounded in desperation, and madness seeps in to innocent lives. In Nosferatu there is no Van Helsing to help the Hutters and it is only through Ellen Hutter's sacrifice that Orlock's vile influence can be cured. Nosferatu is as creepy as it ever has been and it's a fascinating and entertaining watch for anyone interested in the history of cinema or pop culture.

Get Involved.

Sadly, the last showing of Nosferatu at the Abbeydale Picture House was today and has sold out. But if you would like to experience more live silent cinema or if you would like to enjoy the quirky and charming surroundings of Abbeydale Picture House for your next film, then follow their tumblr PictureHouseRevival and show your support.

- Picture House Revival
-The Story Behind 'Nosferatu'
-Inside Abbeydale Picture House
-Abbeydale Picture House - Independant Sheffield

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