There’s a moment in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu that can be praised as an example of the creativity that often underpins practical effects. However, I think the shot is interesting not just for how it is achieved, but in how it is used.
Lucy Harker sits at her mirror; all is normal, and then her door is opened by what seems to be a shadow.
It slowly advances, closer and closer…
And then someone more solid than a shadow appears. It was Dracula all along.
The first shadow was cast by another man, while Klaus Kinski stood to the right of the camera, waiting to step into view. The effect was a matter of getting everything positioned in the right place.
Of course, Dracula does not cast a reflection. We’ve seen this in plenty of other vampire movies, but hopefully have forgotten it as we are drawn into the surprise and horror that Lucy feels. Imagine if the scene played differently, if Dracula and Lucy were in a room, and she glanced into a mirror and screamed at his lack of reflection. That would probably get little reaction out of us jaded viewers, but Herzog makes better choices here. The advancing shadow is far creepier and, like Lucy, we don’t immediately understand what is happening. This moment is creative in more ways than one.