Nosferatu released March 4th 1922 and is considered to be among the earliest horror movies. Nosferatu is an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stokers novel Dracula with just the character names being changed, since the film has fallen into public domain within the US in some versions the characters names have been changed back. Stokers widow sued over the copy right infringement, with the court’s eventually ruling in her favor ordering that all known prints and negatives of the film be destroyed. Thankfully a single copy of the film survived and has become regarded as a masterpiece of the Silent Film era. It is also included on the list “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”.
Nosferatu follows Thomas Hutter (portrayed by Gustav von Wangenheim) who is sent to Transylvania to sell a home across from his own to the mysterious Count Orlok (portrayed by Max Schreck). Thomas leaves his wife Ellen (portrayed by Greta Schroder) in the care of his friend Harding and his sister Anne (Georg H. Schnell and Ruth Landsoff respectively). Thomas travels to Transylvania stopping at an Inn for the evening. The locals become frightened at mention of Count Orloks name and convince Thomas to travel Count Orloks castle the following day as a werewolf is on the prowl. Thomas makes his way to the Count Orloks castle the following day after taking a book about vampires from the Inn. While dinning that night with the Count Thomas cuts his thumb on his knife. Count Orlok tries to suck the blood from Thomas cut, but Thomas pulls away his thumb from him in disgust. Thomas wakes up the next day with two small puncture marks on his neck he attributes to insect bites. After selling Orlok the home he begins to suspect that his host is in fact a vampire. After searching the grounds Thomas finds Orlok sleeping in the crypt below the castle. He later witness Count Orlok loading up coffins filled with dirt for transport putting himself in the final one and watches it be taken away. Thomas then is knocks himself unconscious while trying to escape Count Orloks castle. He awakes in a hospital and when hes good enough health to travel races back home. Meanwhile Orlok is feeding all along the coast and even upon the crew of the ship itself. The deaths are attributed to plague being spread by rats. When the now ghost ship lands in Thomas home city Wisborg, Orlok escapes unseen with one of his coffins to his new home. Thomas arrives home as the city is stricken with panic over the plague upon their city which is actually caused by Count Orlok. Thomas wife Ellen reads in the book Thomas took from the inn and learns that only a woman pure of heart as willing victim can distract a vampire until after the cock crows. She decides to sacrifice herself to save her husband and the city leading the films resolution.
Almost a century has passed since Nosferatu was first released and it remains both unsettling and apprehensive. The film has a very eerie nightmarish quality that relies on subtle tension building up. Nosferatu is regarded to be the first vampire film thus not only helping create the horror genre but also founding one of if not the most popular of its sub-genres.
Noferatu is a great film but it still has it flaws. All the night scenes were shot during the day so since Nosferatu is black and white film its pretty hard to ignore. I’ve been told that some version of Nosferatu the night scenes have been re-edited so the night scenes now having a blue hue. This was a big problem for me with many of the shots of the interior of homes being dark, twisted and with heavy focus on Count Orloks shadow. So when its the exterior shots are always brightly lit it does break the atmosphere for me as I have to remind myself that its supposed to nighttime.
Another issue I have with the film is that while the plot is simple it has a number of side characters who don’t seem to serve any real purpose to the story other than to take up screen time. With Count Orlok being such a small role with only around 9 minutes of screen time total. I would have really liked to see more of him as Max Schreck does a wonderful job bringing the sinister Count Orlok to life. But on the other hand the small amount of time in which we see Count Orlok adds to his presence when he is on screen.
Something that might also be a turn of for modern audiences is that Nosferatu is a silent picture with the dialogue appearing on title cards. I know people who wont watch subtitled films. So if you happen to be one of those people don’t bother. But if you’re like me and not bothered with idea of reading a little while watching the movie it wont pose a problem. Being silent also means you have to pay much more attention or risk missing important story development.
All of Nosferatu is done very well with its expressionistic style being a sizable part of what makes Nosferatu age so well and makes it stand sup so well against some more modern vampire films… Lost Boy: The Thirst I’m looking at you. So weathering the test of time and being a classic its easy to justify giving Nosferatu a high score. But the outside shots and the almost criminally slow pacing at times makes me knock it down a little. So end of the night Nosferatu is something every fan of the horror genre can and should see at least once. Something not hard since it’s a public domain film with the United States. I give Nosferatu a well earned 8/10.