Thursday, January 3, 2013

FILM AND FOLKLORE REVIEW: Nosferatu; Last Man on Earth

For parents and older kids looking for an antidote to Twilight, 2 classic “public domain” vampire films.  In Nosferatu, a goblin-faced noble brings the terror of a mysterious pestilence to a city.  In Last Man on Earth, a bacterium turns the world’s population into the  undead, except for one immune man who lashes out with psychotic violence against the new rulers of the Earth.
While based in literature more than “folklore”,  these two films are uniquely effective in capturing the lore of “revenants” that were believed in and feared in parts of Europe well into the 20th century.  A particularly interesting element captured in both films is the association of the “vampire” with disease, which in some authentic “folk” accounts (see esp. William of Newburg) is more prominently attributed than the drinking of blood.  Each film also benefits from inventive storytelling.  Little can be said of Nosferatu that Murnau’s cinematography and the performance of Max Schreck do not say for themselves, except that nothing could be closer to authentic belief and further from the almost romanticized image set by Bela Lugosi (never mind Edward).  Last Man on Earth, Richard Matheson’s own adaptation of his novel I Am Legend, offers a faithful if somewhat toned down adaptation of the book. (Forget the recent atrocity Will Smith stepped in!) Vincent Price leads with a compelling and oddly subdued performance, supported by the characters of Ben Cortman, a hapless undead neighbor, and Ruth, a woman who leaves the “last man” guessing.   The story deconstructs the ampire mythology into a parable of the meaning of being an outsider.

David N. Brown
Mesa, Arizona

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