Nosferatu (1922)

Film Title: Nosferatunosferatu-1922-long-poster

Year: 1922

Studio: Prana Film

Silent or Talkie: Silent

Genre: Horror

Starring:

  • Max Schreck
  • Gustav von Wangenheim
  • Greta Schröder
  • Alexander Granach

Review

Nosferatu is probably considered to be director F.W. Murnau’s standout film. Shot between August and October 1921, the movie would become the target of a lawsuit filed by Bram Stoker’s widow, which claimed that the film essentially stole the ideas from her husband’s novel “Dracula”. As a result of that lawsuit, all known negatives and prints of Nosferatu were destroyed. Years later, prints of the film would surface in other countries and then eventually make their way around the world. Nosferatu became the definitive vampire film, spawning a number of imitations and a remake in 1979. To the purists, nothing compares to the original silent masterpiece from 1922.

Thomas Hutter (Gustav v. Wangenheim) is a realtor, working for his shady boss Knock (Alexander Granach). Knock receives a letter from Count Orlok (Max Schreck), written in strange looking symbols. Knock seems to have no trouble understanding and translating the letter, in which Orlok expresses interest in buying property nearby. Knowing that the Count is wealthy, Knock talks Hutter into traveling to meet Orlok at his castle, tucked far away in the ominous mountains. Hutter is hesitant, but Knock brainwashes him with talk of monetary excess. Knock’s motives are immediately suspect. Hutter returns home to tell his wife of his trip, which she is clearly opposed to but cannot dissuade him from taking. He packs up a small sack of clothes and starts out on the journey to meet Orlok. After a long day of traveling, he stops at a small inn to eat, becoming impatient after waiting a few minutes for his food. Hutter bangs on the table, yelling that he needs his food quickly so he can eat and be on his way to Count Orlok’s castle. Everyone at the inn stops dead, their eyes stretched wide open in fright. Claiming that it’s too dark, and that the werewolf is lurking about, the owners of the inn convince Hutter to stay the night and continue his trek in the morning. He agrees. The next morning Hutter is out the door, anxious to keep moving. He comes across a horse-drawn carriage that takes him a good distance but refuses to go any further once it becomes apparent that Orlok’s castle is visible. After walking a bit more, an eerie stranger appears and takes him the rest of the way. Unbeknownst to Hutter, it is Orlok himself, dressed in a hat and overcoat to maintain a false look by day.

Once inside the nightmarish labyrinth of Orlok’s castle, the two sit down at a table together. Hutter eats a meal while Orlok reads over a letter that Knock sent in response to his. Once again, it is written in the quirky shapes and symbols. Hutter suddenly cuts his finger while slicing a piece of bread. Orlok drops the letter and jumps up, taking Hutter’s finger and putting it up to his mouth. Hutter recoils in horror and backs away terrified. Orlok walks slowly towards him in a menacing stroll. Just as his back is against the wall, Orlok suggests they not fight, but rather spend the time getting to know one another. This is Hutter’s first glimpse into a tangled web of madness. The next thing he knows, he wakes up in a chair alone and then wanders around the castle grounds. As the days pass, Hutter realizes that he may be in danger and longs to return home as quickly as possible. One night he is awakened by the chiming of a clock. Orlok suddenly appears without his hat, revealing his gruesome pointed ears and sharp fangs. Hutter is so overcome with terror that he faints. Meanwhile back home, his wife Ellen is having a premonition of his impending doom and cries out into the night. Somehow, this causes Orlok to retreat instead of attacking Hutter. Ellen possesses something that Orlok cannot defeat. The next day, Orlok decides that he will purchase property and signs a letter of intent. While doing so, he notices a photo of Hutter’s wife and remarks that she has a “beautiful neck”.

Hutter decides that he can no longer afford to remain in Orlok’s twisted castle and packs up his belongings to leave. He doesn’t realize that Orlok has launched a trip of his own. Orlok arranges a stack of coffins on a raft and slips inside one. The raft is taken aboard a ship heading out to sea. The crew of the ship finds an overwhelming pile of rats and dirt in the coffins once they are on board. One coffin, however, contains something much more sinister. The crew suffers Orlok’s wrath, leaving him alone to re-route the ship towards Hutter’s home town. Orlok docks and literally carries his coffin through town, finally ending up in a set of old houses directly across from where Hutter and Ellen live. Sensing that something is amiss, Ellen continually stares out the window looking for the cause of her uneasiness. She ultimately stares directly into the evil eyes of Orlok, himself looking across the night air in the direction of her home. He decides that now is the time to go after his real reason for the trip…Ellen, and her beautiful neck. He slowly creeps into the house, shadowed in the darkest of black. As Ellen scrambles, the tension builds like a rapidly beating heart. Orlok ascends the main staircase leading up the bedroom. A silhouette of his pertruding claws and jagged nose is tattooed against the wall as he climbs stair upon stair with a frightening calmness. In another part of the house, Hutter realizes that something is terribly wrong and rushes to find Ellen. The end is imminent for someone.

Nosferatu should have never been. The lawsuit filed by Bram Stoker’s widow aimed to completely wipe the film out of existence. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and the film became a vital part of the German Expressionist movement. There are three films that seem to stand at the forefront of German Expressionism, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Golem (1915) and Nosferatu (1922). Wikipedia describes German Expressionism as a “movement that developed in Germany, especially Berlin, during the 1920s. The Expressionism movement started earlier in about 1905 with the Die Brücke (The Bridge) group, but arose in the filming industry afterward. During the period of recovery following World War I, the German film industry was booming, but because of the hard economic times filmmakers found it difficult to create movies that could compare with the lush, extravagant features coming from Hollywood. The filmmakers of the German UFA studio developed their own style by using symbolism and mise en scène to add mood and deeper meaning to a movie.” These movies eventually became part of the inspiration for the Films Noir in 1940’s Hollywood. In noir, the chopped up light coming through vertical blinds created strips of white and black, symbolically, good and evil. In German Expressionism, these effects were literally painted on the wall, creating a strange, almost Tim Burton-like world. Nosferatu used shadows. The inside of Orlok’s castle can only be described as a complex assembly of walls and halls, which seems designed to swallow and trap its visitors. Many of the scenes were filmed during the day, so to distinguish between the night and day sequences, the film was actually tinted different colors. Blue was commonly used to symbolize night. There are a number of interesting facts surrounding Nosferatu. Apparently, director F.W. Murnau found Max Schreck “strikingly ugly” in real life and decided the vampire makeup would suffice with just pointy ears and false teeth. The character Orlok is never seen blinking on screen, and is only seen on screen for a bit less than nine minutes throughout the whole film. Though the film has a running time of 90 minutes, the only complete, original copy is said to be owned by collector Jens Geutebrück.

On Video

Because the film has fallen into public domain, there are numerous DVD versions of Nosferatu on the market. The majority of these are cheap copies that are put out without any restoration or extras. As far as the better releases, there are two main companies that have a decent product, Image and Kino. While the Kino disc is a very good release, the Image disc has the better score. The score was conducted by The Silent Orchestra. Their haunting melodies fit the scenes perfectly, including the chilling piano piece that is heard on the disc’s menu. Aside from the audio, the video is also restored nicely. Given the age of the film, it’s a very satisfying and effective way to watch the movie.

Conclusion

Nosferatu is known by a few different titles: Nosferatu the Vampire, Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror, Nosferatu, a Symphony of Terror and Nosferatu: The First Vampire among others. Regardless of what title you choose to go by, the bottom line is the same. This is a timeless film that has easily outdone all of the copycats to precede it. This is a movie that doesn’t need the Halloween season to be compelling. In fact, the darkness of the plot itself is enough to resonate with the viewer even in the light of day.

Click HERE to purchase this DVD!