Mob Scene: Nosferatu

The “angry villagers” scene is closely associated with the Universal horror cycle; indeed, the very concept traces back to the Frankenstein films. But a cinematic effort that predates Universal’s Dracula by nearly a decade also forms one of the earliest instances of a monster-movie mob scene.

I refer to the 1922 German Expressionist classic Nosferatu (an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel). In the film’s closing minutes, the natives of the town of Wisborg are restless with dread, as a sudden outbreak of strange death plagues the area. Seeking a scapegoat, the townspeople mark the estate-agent-turned-lunatic Knock (a knock-off of Stoker’s Renfield and Hawkins characters) as a vampire. Such an identification is not hard to imagine, considering that the shock-haired, rotten-toothed Knock forms a just-as-grotesque double of the frightful Count Orlok.

Knock, who has recently escaped from madhouse confinement, is chased through the streets by a fast-amassing, co-ed contingent of Wisborgians. While the people don’t wield torches and pitchforks, they do toss stones at the gleefully grinning fugitive as he straddles a rooftop. For all his obvious insanity, though, Knock does demonstrate a degree of craftiness. He throws his pursuers off course by hanging his coat on a scarecrow in a field. Belatedly recognizing the ruse, the townspeople pummel the effigy in frustration (one wonders if Knock–whose eventual apprehension occurs offscreen–suffers a similar thrashing when the irate locals finally catch up to him).

This somewhat-whimsical (as emphasized by the accompanying orchestra music) mob scene is a curious one, especially considering its placement towards the end of the film. Perhaps it is designed by director F.W. Murnau to accentuate the horror of Nosferatu‘s climax. Because while the populace is out giving madcap chase of Knock, the heroine Ellen is alone indoors and vulnerable to home-invasion by Count Orlok, who has targeted her for some serious harm.

 

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