Horror is a fairly played-out film genre nowadays, but it wasn't always the case. Certainly, in 1922, Prana Films and F.W. Murnau's German Expressionist film, Nosferatu - A Symphony of Horror would have ruffled a few feathers amongst audiences. The unofficial adaptation (the film almost never made it to modern audiences after Bram Stoker's estate sued Prana into bankruptcy and had most of the negatives destroyed) saw a revival of its original spirit at the Mercury Cinema last night with classical duo Tess Said So providing a haunting original score to the horror classic.
The granddaddy of all vampire films is presented here as an interesting mélange of the original variations by Prana to unsuccessfully avoid litigation – Bremen rather than London – and modern English captions that return to the original Stoker names. Some elements of the classic movie have aged less gracefully than others, eliciting a few titters from the audience at the overly melodramatic gestures and Orlok's buck-fangs. Others remain eternally atmospheric, such as the ground-breaking camera angles and stark lighting use.
But the real stars of the show are musicians Rasa Daukus and Will Larsen and the live performance of their enchanting score. Daukus' piano and synth work is impeccably restrained, and Larsen's varied percussion chimes (literally with an imposing set of brass tubes) in at just the right moments. Composing an original score is an impossibly daunting task under any circumstances, and to do so for such a widely-regarded horror classic must be only more so. Deciding when to pull back, when to add a refrain or theme, and when to bring the crescendo requires not only an intimate understanding of the film in question, but immense skill as musicians. In my completely uninformed musical opinion, the pair pull it off with such aplomb and impact that henceforth every screening of Nosferatu should bear their brilliant score.
Nosferatu - A Symphony of Horror sadly only has one more performance tonight, Saturday the 25th, at the Mercury, and I can't encourage you enough to get out and see this utterly unique film experience.