F.W. Murnau's NOSFERATU, which is subtitled "A Symphony of Horror," is a stylish (albeit unauthorized) silent version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula," starring the incomparably creepy Max Schreck as the Vampire.
In 19th-century Germany, young real estate clerk Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is told by his boss, Knock (Alexander Granach), that Count Orlok wants to buy a house in their town and wishes for Hutter to travel to his castle in Transylvania to close the deal. Hutter tells his wife, Ellen
(Greta Schroder), that he may be away for several months, and begins his journey. When he stops at an inn for the night and tells the patrons that he is traveling to meet Count Orlok, they react with horror and tell him not to go out at night. In his room, he sees a book about vampires, which
warns against saying the name "Nosferatu" (meaning "The Undead") aloud, but pays it no heed. As he approaches Orlok's castle, the driver of his carriage stops and refuses to go any further. Hutter walks across the bridge and is met by another carriage, which takes him to the castle. After meeting
the frightening looking Orlok (Max Schreck), Hutter becomes increasingly alarmed by his host's bizarre behavior, which includes trying to lick Hutter's finger after he accidentally cuts himself, and becomes ill after noticing two marks on his neck, which he reads in the vampire book are similar to
bites from a vampire.
Orlok agrees to buy the deserted building across from Hutter's house in Germany and locks Hutter in his castle. Hutter sees Orlok loading coffins filled with rats and earth as he prepares to leave, then gets in one and is taken to a ship. During the sea voyage, the rats swarm all over the ship and
the entire crew becomes ill and they gradually all die. Hutter escapes from Orlok's castle and tries to get back home, while Knock, who is now insane and locked in an asylum, anxiously awaits Orlok. When he arrives, a plague sweeps through the town, causing countless deaths. Hutter finally returns
to Germany and is reunited with Ellen, but he is sick and tells her that Orlok is a vampire. Ellen reads that a vampire can be destroyed if a woman who is pure in heart makes him stay awake past the sunrise. That night, she seduces Orlok and sacrifices herself, allowing him to bite her, but
causing his demise when he is struck by the morning sunlight.
NOSFERATU is the granddaddy of all vampire films, but since it was clearly based on Stoker's novel (with the character names changed) without permission, lawyers from his estate kept it out of America for seven years. It's a truly horrifying and scary film, but it's also frequently poetic and
beautiful, using real locations and a naturalistic style to create an overpowering atmosphere of evil. Unlike Murnau's later films, which employed a sensually moving camera and extremely stylized expressionistic sets, NOSFERATU relies mostly on stark, static compositions, and cinematic tricks,
such as jump cuts, sped-up action, stop-motion, negative images, and double-exposures, to show such things as carriages speeding through the night, doors and caskets opening and closing by themselves, and Orlok magically appearing and disappearing, or rising straight up out of his coffin. Murnau
creates a visceral sense of fear and menace through the accumulation of subtle details--a cuckoo clock with a skeleton that rings the bell; horses being scared away when they sense the presence of Orlok; and the magnificent use of shadows, depicting Orlok's huge, claw-like hands and pointed head
as they descend upon a victim. With his tall, gaunt figure, bald head, hunched-shoulders, long, crooked fingers, sharp teeth, bushy-eyebrows, and pale skin, Max Schreck is so hideously ugly and terrifying as Orlok, that it's hard to think of him as an actor--one believes that he truly is a
bloodsucking vampire. The finale is particularly stunning, giving the impression that we are actually watching a real demonic ritual, as Orlok finishes biting Ellen's neck and then slowly looks up with blood on his mouth, realizing that the sun has risen. He stands in front of the window as rays
from the sun strike his body, and he dissolves into a puff of smoke. In the scores of vampire films that have followed NOSFERATU in the subsequent decades, none have been able to match its physical beauty, its intensity of vision, or its grasp of true evil. (Violence, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Rating: NR
- Review: F.W. Murnau's NOSFERATU, which is subtitled "A Symphony of Horror," is a stylish (albeit unauthorized) silent version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula," starring the incomparably creepy Max Schreck as the Vampire. In 19th-century Germany, young real estate clerk… (more)