A POLYP DEVOURS ITS FEED: Paracelsus Unzipped An analysis of F. W. Murnau’s film Nosferatu
Counter-Currents, September 1, 2010.
F. W. Murnau’s 1922 movie Nosferatu, starring Max Schreck, begins with bourgeois sentimentality or its tableau. Yet this comfortable familiarity can be vitiated by intrusion, even obtrusion. Darkness occurs amid light; there is a hint of delirium, as well as madness and despair. All of this has to be presaged by Knock—a villainous, if expressive, land agent. (Note: he doesn’t figure in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, from which the screenplay comes, and has more to do with Hans Prinzhorn’s The Art of the Insane.)
A sweep of the Carpathian hills follows on—and it indicates simple pleasures, often obscured. A negation (this is) that takes a wolf’s form; and possibly it’s a lynx, a wolverine, coyote, or mink. Certainly, it happens to be a wild cat who brings cold air; the latter forcing old peasants to cross themselves.
Whilst the young Jonathan Hutter, the land agent’s assistant, settles down to some reading. Has it taken root in his hand? One doesn’t know; but what becomes clear is its involvement with vampirism, a hidden necropolis, and even Satanism.
Dawn’s freshness brings relief, however, and it clusters around light or its foreknowledge. It is more than enough to illuminate one’s toilet or wash. He (Hutter or Harker) hastens to a trap or brig, and the camera snatches away so as to glimpse a dark mountain. It—a sinister Carpathian pile—gives purchase to a glinting storm. At last the coach driver refuses to go any further, and he cites as his reason that: “The land of Phantoms begins here . . .”
We gain our first glimpse of Castle Dracula or Orloc; and this involves a speeded up approach by a coach. It was seen—like a racing car—through a reverse periscope. For, as Stoker declares in his horror novel, “the dead travel fast.” Now we discern the first vision of Orloc in an abandoned Castle Dracula, and he comes across as a wizened old man. In all honesty, “it” looks like a Giacometti sculpture, a signification of the outsider or a Kafkaesque bogle. Similarly, a distinct resemblance to the Khazar or Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew is unfurled—especially in relation to the Weimar lore into which this film was dropped.
Orloc, ceteris paribus, exists in a grieving age or time. He senses his guest’s fear of midnight: the former resounding from a clock with skeletal figures. Needless to say, a cut at the dining-room table, inflicted using a knife, leads to a denouement or its non-reconciliation. It also unleashes a miasma in a world of lucid dreaming. “Let us stay up till midnight,” mimes the feaster, and no-one doubts the healing power of the sun. Castle Dracula finds itself relieved, yet none can deny their subdued intimacy over a bite . . . even though a meal awaits. Renfield’s agent makes a joyful repast (thereupon).
He later approaches a bell-tower or keep, so as to examine the Carpathians at his leisure . . . but disconcertingly, the very spot is haunted by flies or mosquitoes. They suck the blood (you see). Nonetheless, a Gypsy who passes by was given a letter to send, and this occurred under a hebetude of storm.
Whilst Orloc (during the next night) is entranced by his guest’s beloved. “Your wife possesses a beautiful neck . . . ,” are the only words he can utter. In a strange way, Jonathan Hutter finds himself perturbed by this incident involving a miniature portrait. It is now past midnight tout court . . . and this draws attention to a book on Vampires in a Gothic script. Thereafter, he attempts to bolt a door that’s deep within the castle, as the noise of midnight reverberates around.
Then, in an Expressionist masterpiece or mesmerism, Nosferatu emerges from behind an unbolted door. He appears to be silent within an all-encompassing greed. Likewise, and in a shift back home, his wife Ellen (Mina) seems to be sleep-walking over a ledge. Can anyone really come to her rescue? Eventually, two hands cling to the raiment of these claws, and they exhibit sympathetic magic—even amid its expiration.
Back at Castle Dracula, per se, Nosferatu waxes triumphant, Stoic, bizarrely stayed, expectant, and bat-like. He refuses to give up—even when the door is shaped like a coffin-lid. It doubles as a pall and closes on its victim with crisp finality.
A while later Hutter is wide awake—albeit with a residual pain in his neck. He manages to force open the tomb or mausoleum which is outside the Castle’s doorway, and he creeps down into a silent crypt. In such a grotto, he prises up a coffin-lid and spies the master of the house. At last our visitant understands WHY, rests for a period, and then sees laborers down below who work at double-time. Could it be a gloomy premonition? Resultantly then, he scales the tower using some sheets and falls to the ground precipitously . . . whether asleep or torpid!
Various raftsmen carry Orloc (Dracula) down-river towards Hutter’s tower [thereafter]. He revives, distraught, in a hospital bed—while barge-men hurry these coffers to their destination. They are beset or imperiled by rats.
Meanwhile, a mysterious Professor Bulwer—a mystic or Paracelsian—sets the scene. He uses a Venus Fly-Trap to metaphoricize Dracula. Whilst Knock, the former land-agent, is out of his mind in a padded cell. He catches flies in his hands and crams them into his mouth . . . so as to absorb their “power” inside. The maniac has transformed himself into a cannibal or an autophagous; and he’s a man-eater (you see), if only of drosophilae. To wit: a wag in an “O”-level lesson can call him a lord of the blue-bottles, albeit using a porcine head on a stick!
Still, Professor Bulwer addresses his students over polyp life and he examines it microscopically . . . as Dracula’s boat gets nearer. Touche! For the madcap or example of Gaius Cibber’s Raving Melancholy (outside the Imperial War Museum) writhes in his cell. He exhibits both the Agony and the Ecstasy in Irving Stone’s words, while a dark lord promises developments from afar. Likewise, a letter was delivered to Ellen (Mina) on the sea’s very edge, and it tells of her fiancé’s recovery from his malaise. Already now, the land-agent’s assistant makes ready to leave a Catholic hospice. Won’t he make the decision to travel by boat?
Further on, Knock’s lunacy grows apace within a sensory deprivation chamber; while newspapers shout and blare. They are heralding “a new plague that baffles science.” Our Bedlamite understands this by snatching a tabloid from one of his warders. Resultantly, a vessel on the high seas approaches its port, and already the sailors or crew were dropping like skittles. It’s the many coffers or sarcophagi behind a flitting Nosferatu which focuses anxiety, and Orloc flutters around a camera. This is transparently so . . . and, as time goes by, each new Jack Tar was committed to the waves. Finally, a redeemer seeks out the bacillus’ source or “eye”—as with a boil’s apex—and he’s armed avec a halberd. Slowly, oh so slowly—the vampire emerges perpendicularly out of his coffin; and he comes straight up as death’s visitation. At one level, it combines the character of Barlow in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot with Emily Dickinson’s morbidity. To be sure: our vessel of a thousand fools (even in plague) has a new captain, Nosferatu. Whereupon this lemur or toy-boat docks in a Baltic cove . . . why, it carries Beowulf from the North with its facsimile of a long prow. Likewise, we find Mina (Ellen) all alone and waiting via some erotic filigree. Such a mysterious clarion must come to her from across the waves. Doesn’t the ocean swell within a periscope’s compass or cross-hairs . . . at least in terms of a magic ’scope? Anyway, she asseverates the following—even oneirically. It’s all a dream after Dali’s fancy—don’t you see a Ouija board moving so?
“I must go to him,” she remarks sleepily, “the master is approaching us all!” Surely, to paraphrase John Cowper Powys, we sense a medley of Oxtiern, Isabella of Bavaria, A Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man; plus The One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom. It can only be seen at the depths of Remenham’s caves vis-à-vis the Hell Fire club. Let it pass, metaphorically so—.
Now then, the trees roundabout are given to swirling, (expectantly), and a four-sail rig floats in. It berths in a coastal town. Already a lycanthrope (Knock) twirls, gibbers or capers with glee. “Our Rex Vivant is coming. He invades this space,” chunters our roadster in his cell. A schooner finally docks as a sleek craft, by the by, and Count Orloc emerges silently from its hold. In the mean-time, however, a loon escapes his cage and makes off over the roofs.
By a Tarot card’s turn, a text-book explains the misadventures of Science, à la Paracelsus. Whilst—simultaneously with the previous—Orloc carries coffers into the Berg. He positions them amid the pink raiment of so many rats . . . rather like a nineteenth century photogravure avec Sir Henry Irving. (An image which captures the spice of a wizened Scotch earl; at once resourceful, wry, eldritch or Mephisto’d.) Yet again, “he” flits through the shadows as a lucid dream or a participant in Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty—perhaps it speaks to Paul Nash or Leonara Carrington.
Pursuant to any twist, Hutter travels home on a salient brig. Will he be in time? For Orloc, a cadaverous imp of envy, reaches a neighboring courtyard in relation to chez Hutter. He’s arrived in order to reclaim a history—even from itself. Soon the house opposite or its ruined hulk is alive, and strange lights flit aslant its windows. They mismatch the even-tide of these droplets (all black) by crossing ebon glass. Surely now, Dracula approaches it by transmigration—in that he moves hither and thither in a pall of grey.
Back at the docks, the pilot of the ruined vessel is found dead or otherwise lashed to the wheel. Various officials then go below so as to inspect the hold. While the ship’s captain was laid out and his log-book confiscated. This will be examined at a later date by urban worthies gathered to do so. Presently, these mugwumps raise the gang-plank and go ashore.
Yet what’s Professor Bulwer, the metaphysician, been up to during this advent? Why, our worthy boffin examines the log—but not blog. And it reveals that the plague or Black Death stalks abroad. A proclamation is then delivered by town criers who broadcast it across this imaginary Gotham . . . speaking of which, the comic-strips of Bob Kane illuminate Murnau’s mound, in that they feast on a poster-paint medley. These graphic novels indicate a palsy or cinematic bite—after Muybridge’s sequential photography. Also, the colors are garish in their brightness—at once a lurid yellow, red, sapphire, orange, tangerine, gorse, or puce. They surge forwards—dealing with a Bat-man rather than a Man-bat—and yet Nosferatu’s symmetry with the Joker is complete. For both are living corpses or blanched idols that adopt a violent disregard o’er the future . . . Might the one’s green hair, purple suit, and clown’s face (frozen) merge into the other’s longitudinal shadow? It testifies to a cadaverous slide; plus red-eyes, long nails, a nineteenth century waist-coat, and a glabrous skull whose skin’s calcified in milk. Does its X-rated certificate surprise you?
By any account, the windows in all dwellings are to remain shut—irrespective of any mephitic vapors inside. A municipal official goes around and secures each door, as, amid flickering torches or brands, the dead are carried out in their boxes. Meanwhile, Ellen (Mina) looks at a bibliographical rarity—The Book of Vampires—which her husband has smuggled back from the Carpathians. Whilst the manse opposite “feeds” on her every night and it exists like a cannibal, or an Animist freak-show.
Its happenstance delivers a blow at many distinct levels. Since Hutter moves slowly away from this aperture, or open window, in order to splurge upon a divan. Moreover, an “unanswered” bed cannot save him from a hypnotic pull over the way, and a dark mesmerism emanates from this Marsten House. It catapults Nosferatu’s persecution of his victims into stone and mortar, in other words.
Likewise, Ellen contracts a fever which goes abroad—it denotes a miasma, a tincture of ochre or sand, and even a Giant’s exhalation. By day, a procession of coffins marches through the town . . . and they adopt a concert of snakes without the ladders. Do you remember a children’s game of yore? It was played on a checker board.
Irrespective of this, Ellen (Mina) reads that a woman must sacrifice her blood, willingly, in order to assuage a vampire. She comes across this advice in her Gothic tome—and might it have been a secret script, or lexicon, her husband brought back from Translyvania? For a moment (just) one imagines him carving a message into the clay of his cell—albeit with dirtied nails. On other fronts, the people seek out a scapegoat, and they pursue Knock, the mad-cap.
They want to lynch him or apply tar-and-feathers, as in a Mark Twain short story. He makes off like a ruined Vaudeville turn; at once hobbled and hawking. While—simultaneously with the above—Ellen (Mina) waxes neurasthenic in a 19th century way. She suffers from the erotic delirium of Vampiredom, you see . . . even as Knock’s pursued avaunt a stump. All of an instant (and peeping out from behind a frond) our jester gibbers unceasingly, as the canaille seize a scarecrow. . . . They wish to tear “it” to pieces without respite. At this veriest instant, Mina (Ellen) finds herself “seduced” by Dracula beyond the glass, and no Plexiglas can prevent her from shedding blood.
As her husband slumbers, she attempts to open sultry veins to a Man-bat over the way. Let it fall sheer—since his intimation is to ride out towards an unseen bite. Yet Jonathan Hutter (Harker) wakes so as to foil the schema which would see her descend into those Hell-fire caves. These once belonged to an 18th century club that recalled Robert Louis Stevenson’s Suicide Club. In any event, a nubile figure lies on a stone crypt deep underground . . . and a hermaphrodite Beast-god gazes down.
Metaphorically speaking, the tapers are out or find themselves gripped by an eldritch glow. All remains still—and Jonathan Harker’s unquestioned answer is to call for Professor Bulwer! We have the power now . . . quod a window lies open afore the breeze, and Mina [Ellen] starts her vampiric egress once more. A shadow stands out against a startled emptiness—albeit in the manner of a silent cinema’s shimmer. It subsists along the following hurdy-gurdy rides, in terms of the Western symphony’s origin. Do you reconnoiter such black-and-white classics as Rio Grande, He Who Gets Slapped, Faust, Stagecoach, Dick Tracy in Gruesome, The Three Musketeers (with John Wayne) Parts 1 & 2, A Woman in Green and The Man Who Knew Too Much?
Anyway, Count Orloc beckons to her from across the way, involuntarily, and his spindly fingers intimate a presentiment. Could this be a blood-sport, necessarily? Might Max Schreck’s Nosferatu throw a penumbra upon the stair-well . . . i.e., one that’s elongated, decisive, pinioned, ascending and yet lice-ridden? It lets out a sarcophagus’ expiration—despite its revolutionary selfishness. Does the director (F. W. Murnau) want it to pant at a meaty retrieval?
Over the way, though, Professor Bulwer has been rescued from his study by Jonathan Hutter. They rush back towards his wife as a cock begins to crow. While—within the asylum’s walls—a recaptured Knock squeals at the advent of day. “Beware, Master!” he admonishes. The attendants within the madhouse strive to subdue a kook at a signal of time’s nemesis. May such a sand-storm (inside an hour-glass) have failed to depart?
Already, the Vampire finds himself trapped by the morn, and it rushes upon him like a vinegary sponge. Almost immediately, he becomes transfixed or glued to the light—this subdues him à la a photograph’s negative or converse. It distills or decants his essence—possibly its negation.
And finally we recognize that a female sacrifice has worked, the town is saved, or an Undead parasite’s been forever stilled. The maniac or Tom O’ Bedlam breathes his last, however, and this occurs inside Horst Bienek’s cells. Not even its bars may chisel at Knock’s Parthian shot, though. “Our Dark Lord has died under the incense of a golden lotus,” he lisps prior to collapse. Might this axiom concur with Phil Baker’s biography of Dennis Wheatley, The Devil is a Gentleman?
Ellen then expires herself—in an orgasmic rapture or auto-da-fé—once count Orloc has been sent eastwards. He shrivels after a drying mummy in the wind . . . what with Sickert’s morbid entombment of demi-mondes. These were ripped out of place vis-à-vis the Ripper murders—but without Stephen Knight’s reductions. Nor can a conspiratorial logic quell the pain in one’s chest, even though her spouse, Jonathan Hutter, and the benign occultist do their best. The good Professor has at last arrived—isn’t he named after Bulwer Lytton, the author of Zanoni? In any event, no Bowie knife severs a mummified head, girt in lintel à la Boris Karloff, and portending to the azure. It labors the point of Stoker’s finale, in terms of the physicality of John Cowper Powys’ Wood and Stone.
Finally, Count Orloc’s castle collapses into dust akin to an explosion on one of Gerry Anderson’s miniature sets. Doesn’t it convince us that the truth proves to be ashen, mimetic, non-providential, and ill-foretold? To re-adapt Dion Fortune, even a psychic vampire requires a host to batten upon à la Eugene Sue.