Chris Green: 'John Carpenter and Goblin really wrote the book on horror soundtracks'
- Brian Donaldson
- 5 October 2021
1922 horror movie Nosferatu remains a chilling masterpiece of the silent era. The folk musician behind a new live soundtrack tells us why century-old films can still send a shudder down our spine
Max Schreck will forever go down in cinema history as the first man to portray Dracula on the big screen. The chief protagonist of Nosferatu might not share a name with Bram Stoker's legendary creation (he was known as Count Orlok) but this classic slice of German expressionism still dabbles in many of the staple tropes of vampirism's poster boy. 'There are so many things that we now think of as typically Dracula,' notes Chris Green, the folk musician and composer who has created a brand new score that he will perform live to accompany screenings of FW Murnau's film. 'There's the haunted castle, the bats, the creature crumbling into dust when the sun comes up. Admittedly, though, there's no garlic and he doesn't seem to be particularly bothered by religious objects.'
Despite being the first of its kind, Schreck's Orlok is a million Undead years away from the archetypal Dracula as made flesh by the likes of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, all the way up to Claes Bang in the BBC adaptation from 2020. 'Lugosi's Dracula is where we get the image of this suave and charming eastern European gentleman who seduces ladies whereas in Nosferatu he is physically repulsive. He looks like a creature rather than a person.'
Initially commissioned by English Heritage to create a new score for an outdoor screening in 2020 at Whitby Abbey (the Yorkshire coastal town plays a hugely important part in the original Stoker novel), the pandemic left Green with no live work in the diary; he was then almost gifted the time to simply throw himself into Nosferatu. While the film's look is ingrained in the minds of many generations of horror fans, creating a new score meant filling in all the gaps that a silent movie leaves for the viewer. Green dipped back into a potent era for horror soundtracks as his chief inspiration.
'If you're going to try and write a good horror soundtrack, then John Carpenter and Goblin really wrote the book on that. And lots of those films [Halloween, Suspiria] used tropes that first appeared in Nosferatu so there's a link back there. But I always really liked the deceptive simplicity of those scores. They also stay with you long after the end.'
While Green embarks on an October tour of Nosferatu, he harbours an ambition that next year he will finally be able to play that hallowed gig at Whitby Abbey, particularly given that 2022 marks the movie's centenary. Once this month is over, he will move onto creating music for another cult horror, also made in that ripe old year of 1922. 'I've just started work on the Scandinavian film Häxan which is the first horror documentary, and is ostensibly about witchcraft through the ages. But it's actually a truly hallucinogenic experience of witch sabbaths and devils and stuff like that. I sat down and watched it a couple of weeks ago for the first time since probably my teens and came away thinking, "this is insane!"'
Nosferatu: A Symphony Of Horrors, Byre Theatre, St Andrews, Thursday 7 October; UK tour runs until Sunday 31 October.