Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Netflix: "Nosferatu" and "It! The Terror from Beyond Space"

Recently my wife signed us up for Netflix. Until then, we bought nearly all our movies rather than renting them. Well, that meant that a lot of movies that we weren't sure we wanted to buy got passed over. There were also a variety of TV shows we wanted to see from the beginning, but didn't want to invest in whole seasons if we didn't like them. Now that we've signed up for Netflix, my wife gets to watch those chick flicks that we aren't willing to buy. As for me, I get to take advantage of Netflix's enormous selection of movies to satisfy my eclectic taste in movies.

The first Netflix movie I watched was through their streaming service. It was the silent film Nosferatu (1922); a German film adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, except that the characters' names from the novel were changed to avoid copyright issues. The movie is relatively faithful to the first half of Stoker's book (except for the names, of course) while completely revising the end of the story. As much as I liked Tod Browning's more famous Dracula (1931) staring Bela Lugosi, Nosferatu was superior thanks to the use of actual castles and medieval villages rather than plywood sets, director Friedrich Murnau's genuinely creepy style, and Max Schreck's depiction of Count Orlok. Lugosi's slightly pale eastern European count isn't nearly as menacing as Schreck's vampire, whose pointed ears, inch-long claws, and mouth full of sharp teeth strongly indicate his inhuman status. Murnau's use of shadows to depict Orlok prior to his attacks (see the picture above) helps to enhance the effect. Caveat emptor: this is a silent film that runs about 80 minutes. In other words, unless you have an interest in old science fiction and horror movies, I would suggest you skip this film.

Last night I watched my first Netflix DVD: It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). In this film, a dangerous alien life form comes aboard a spaceship that landed to investigate another crashed ship. As the ship heads back to earth, the alien starts killing off the crew one by one. This movie is believed to be an uncredited inspiration for 1979's Alien. Although Alien is not a unabashed ripoff of It!, there are several interesting parallels. Both have scenes in which a crew member unexpectedly encounters the alien in an air shaft, both aliens will leave human victims alive for biological purposes (an unusual method of feeding in It! and egg-laying in Alien), both are sensitive to fire, and both are defeated in a similar manner.
It! is one of the better '50s sci-fi movies. It's not a classic like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) or Forbidden Planet (1956) (whose monster also has a creative way of killing its victims), and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) still features my favorite (non-Godzilla) monster, but the movie is genuinely entertaining. And the fact that the story foreshadows the plots of so many modern sci-fi/horror movies is of historical interest.

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