Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (translated as Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror; or simply Nosferatu) is a 1922 German Expressionist horror film, directed by F. W. Murnau, starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok.
The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain the rights to the novel (for instance, "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok"). Stoker's heirs sued over the adaptation, and a court ruling ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed. However, one print of Nosferatu survived, and the film came to be regarded as an influential masterpiece of cinema. As of 2015, it is Rotten Tomatoes' second best-reviewed horror film of all time.
Thomas Hutter lives in the fictitious German city of Wisborg. His employer, Knock, sends Hutter to Transylvania to visit a new client named Count Orlok. Hutter entrusts his loving wife Ellen to his good friend Harding and Harding's sister Annie, before embarking on his long journey. Nearing his destination in the Carpathian mountains, Hutter stops at an inn for dinner. The locals become frightened by the mere mention of Orlok's name and discourage him from traveling to his castle at night, warning of a werewolf on the prowl. The next morning, Hutter takes a coach to a high mountain pass, but the coachmen decline to take him any further than the bridge as nightfall is approaching. A black-swathed coach appears after Hutter crosses the bridge and the coachman gestures for him to climb aboard. Hutter is welcomed at a castle by Count Orlok. When Hutter is eating dinner and accidentally cuts his thumb, Orlok tries to suck the blood out, but his repulsed guest pulls his hand away.
Hutter wakes up to a deserted castle the morning after and notices fresh punctures on his neck, which he attributes to mosquitoes or spiders. That night, Orlok signs the documents to purchase the house across from Hutter's own home. Hutter writes a letter to his wife and gets a coachman to send it. Reading a book about vampires that he took from the local inn, Hutter starts to suspect that Orlok is Nosferatu, the "Bird of Death." He cowers in his room as midnight approaches, but there is no way to bar the door. The door opens by itself and Orlok enters, his true nature finally revealed, and Hutter falls unconscious. The next day, Hutter explores the castle. In its crypt, he finds the coffin in which Orlok is resting dormant. Hutter becomes horrified and dashes back to his room. Hours later from the window, he sees Orlok piling up coffins on a coach and climbing into the last one before the coach departs. Hutter escapes the castle through the window, but is knocked unconscious by the fall and awakes in a hospital.
When he is sufficiently recovered, he hurries home. Meanwhile, the coffins are shipped down river on a raft. They are transferred to a schooner, but not before one is opened by the crew, revealing a multitude of rats. The sailors on the ship get sick one by one; soon all but the captain and first mate are dead. Suspecting the truth, the first mate goes below to destroy the coffins. However, Orlok awakens and the horrified sailor jumps into the sea. Unaware of his danger, the captain becomes Orlok's latest victim when he ties himself to the wheel. When the ship arrives in Wisborg, Orlok leaves unobserved, carrying one of his coffins, and moves into the house he purchased. The next morning, when the ship is inspected, the captain is found dead. After examining the logbook, the doctors assume they are dealing with the plague. The town is stricken with panic, and people are warned to stay inside.
There are many deaths in the town, which are blamed on the plague. Knock, who had been committed to a psychiatric ward, escapes after murdering the warden. The townspeople give chase, but he eludes them by climbing a roof, then using a scarecrow. Meanwhile, Orlok stares from his window at the sleeping Ellen. Against her husband's wishes, Ellen had read the book he found. The book claims that the way to defeat a vampire is for a woman who is pure in heart to distract the vampire with her beauty all through the night. She opens her window to invite him in, but faints. When Hutter revives her, she sends him to fetch Professor Bulwer. After he leaves, Orlok comes in. He becomes so engrossed drinking her blood that he forgets about the coming day. When a rooster crows, Orlok vanishes in a puff of smoke as he tries to flee. Ellen lives just long enough to be embraced by her grief-stricken husband. The last scene shows Count Orlok's ruined castle in the Carpathian Mountains, symbolizing the end of Count Orlok's reign of terror.
- Max Schreck as Count Orlok
- Gustav von Wangenheim as Thomas Hutter
- Greta SchrÃ¶der as Ellen Hutter
- Alexander Granach as Knock
- Ruth Landshoff as Annie
- Wolfgang Heinz as First Mate of The Empusa
- Georg H. Schnell as Harding
- John Gottowt as Professor Bulwer
- Gustav Botz as Professor Sievers
- Max Nemetz as The Captain of The Empusa
- Heinrich Witte as guard in asylum
- Guido Herzfeld as innkeeper
- Karl Etlinger as student with Bulwer
- Hardy von Francois as hospital doctor
- Fanny Schreck as hospital nurse
The studio behind Nosferatu, Prana Film, was a short-lived silent-era German film studio founded in 1921 by Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau, named for the Buddhist concept of prana. Its intent was to produce occult and supernatural themed films. Nosferatu was the only production of Prana Film as it declared bankruptcy in order to dodge copyright infringement suits from Bram Stoker's widow.
Grau had the idea to shoot a vampire film; the inspiration arose from Grau's war experience: in the winter of 1916, a Serbian farmer told him that his father was a vampire and one of the Undead.
Diekmann and Grau gave Henrik Galeen the task to write a screenplay inspired from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, despite Prana Film not having obtained the film rights. Galeen was an experienced specialist in Dark romanticism; he had already worked on Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague) in 1913, and the screenplay for Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World) (1920). Galeen set the story in a fictional north German harbour town named Wisborg and changed the character names. He added the idea of the vampire bringing the plague to Wisborg via rats on the ship. He left out the Van Helsing vampire hunter character. Galeen's Expressionist style screenplay was poetically rhythmic, without being so dismembered as other books influenced by literary Expressionism, such as those by Carl Mayer. Lotte Eisner described Galeen's screenplay as "voll Poesie, voll Rhythmus" ("full of poetry, full of rhythm").
Filming began in July 1921, with exterior shots in Wismar. A take from Marienkirche's tower over Wismar marketplace with the Wasserkunst Wismar served as the establishing shot for the Wisborg scene. Other locations were the Wassertor, the Heiligen-Geist-Kirche yard and the harbour. In LÃ¼beck, the abandoned Salzspeicher served as Nosferatu's new Wisborg house, the one of the churchyard from Aegidienkirche served as Hutters and down the Depenau coffin bearers bore coffins. Many walks of LÃ¼beck took place in the hunt of Knock, who ordered Hutter in the Yard of FÃ¼chting to meet the earl. Further exterior shots followed in Lauenburg, Rostock and on Sylt. The exteriors of the film set in Transylvania were actually shot on location in northern Slovakia, including the High Tatras, VrÃ¡tna Valley, Orava Castle, the VÃ¡h River, and Starhrad. The team filmed interior shots at the JOFA studio in Berlin's Johannisthal locality and further exteriors in the Tegel Forest.
For cost reasons, cameraman Fritz Arno Wagner only had one camera available, and therefore there was only one original negative. The director followed Galeen's screenplay carefully, following handwritten instructions on camera positioning, lighting, and related matters. Nevertheless Murnau completely rewrote 12 pages of the script, as Galeen's text was missing from the director's working script. This concerned the last scene of the film, in which Ellen sacrifices herself and the vampire dies in the first rays of the Sun. Murnau prepared carefully; there were sketches that were to correspond exactly to each filmed scene, and he used a metronome to control the pace of the acting.
The original score was composed by Hans Erdmann to be performed by an orchestra during the projection. However, most of the score has been lost, and what remains is only a reconstitution of the score as it was played in 1922. This is why so many composers and musicians have written or improvised their own soundtrack to accompany the film. For example, James Bernard, composer of the soundtracks of many Hammer horror films in the late 1950s and 1960s, has written a score for a reissue.
Deviations from the novel
The story of Nosferatu is similar to that of Dracula and retains the core charactersâ"Jonathan and Mina Harker, the Count, etc.â"but omits many of the secondary players, such as Arthur and Quincey, and changes all of the characters' names (although in some recent releases of this film, which is now in the public domain in the United States but not in most European countries, the written dialogue screens have been changed to use the Dracula versions of the names). The setting has been transferred from Britain in the 1890s to Germany in 1838.
In contrast to Dracula, Orlok does not create other vampires, but kills his victims, causing the townfolk to blame the plague, which ravages the city. Also, Orlok must sleep by day, as sunlight would kill him, while the original Dracula is only weakened by sunlight. The ending is also substantially different from that of Dracula. The count is ultimately destroyed at sunrise when the "Mina" character sacrifices herself to him. The town called "Wisborg" in the film is in fact a mix of Wismar and LÃ¼beck.
Shortly before the premiere, an advertisement campaign was placed in issue 21 of the magazine BÃ¼hne und Film, with a summary, scene and work photographs, production reports, and essays, including a treatment on vampirism by Albin Grau. Nosferatu's preview premiered on 4 March 1922 in the Marmorsaal of the Berlin Zoological Garden. This was planned as a large society evening entitled Das Fest des Nosferatu (Festival of Nosferatu), and guests were asked to arrive dressed in Biedermeier costume. The cinema premiere itself took place on 15 March 1922 at Berlin's Primus-Palast.
Reception and legacy
Nosferatu brought the director Murnau reinforced into the public eye, especially since his film The Burning Acker was released a few days later. The press reported extensively on Nosferatu and its premiere. With the laudatory votes, there was also occasional criticism that the technical perfection and clarity of the images did not fit the horror theme. The Filmkurier of 6 March 1922 said that the vampire appeared too corporeal and brightly lit to appear genuinely scary. Hans Wollenberg described the film in photo-Stage No. 11 of 11 March 1922 as a "sensation" and praised Murnau's nature shots as "mood-creating elements." In the Vossische newspaper of 7 March 1922, Nosferatu was praised for its visual style.
This was the only Prana Film; the company declared bankruptcy after Stoker's estate, acting for his widow, Florence Stoker, sued for copyright infringement and won. The court ordered all existing prints of Nosferatu burned, but one purported copy of the film had already been distributed around the world. These prints were duplicated over the years, kept alive by a cult following, making it an example of an early cult film.
The movie has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a "Certified Fresh" label and holds a 97% "fresh" rating based on 60 reviews. It was ranked twenty-first in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010. In 1997, critic Roger Ebert added Nosferatu to his list of The Great Movies, writing:
Here is the story of Dracula before it was buried alive in clichÃ©s, jokes, TV skits, cartoons and more than 30 other films. The film is in awe of its material. It seems to really believe in vampires.[...]
Is Murnau's "Nosferatu" scary in the modern sense? Not for me. I admire it more for its artistry and ideas, its atmosphere and images, than for its ability to manipulate my emotions like a skillful modern horror film. It knows none of the later tricks of the trade, like sudden threats that pop in from the side of the screen. But "Nosferatu" remains effective: It doesnât scare us, but it haunts us.
In popular culture
In 1989, French progressive rock outfit Art Zoyd released Nosferatu on Mantra Records. Thierry Zaboitzeff and GÃ©rard Hourbette composed the pieces, to correspond with a truncated version of the film then heavily in circulation in the public domain.
In 2002, Count Orlok appeared in a brief cameo in children's animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants. The episode, "Graveyard Shift", was written by Jay Lender, who pushed for a random gag that featured Orlok.
In 2010, the Mallarme Chamber Players of Durham, North Carolina, commissioned composer Eric J. Schwartz to compose an experimental chamber music score for live performance alongside screenings of the film, which has since been performed a number of times.
In 2012, scenes from the film were used in the exhibition Dark Romanticism at the StÃ¤del in Frankfurt as an example to illustrate the way in which ideas developed in 18th- and 19th-century art influenced story telling and aesthetics in 20th-century cinema.
- List of films in the public domain in the United States
- List of German films 1919â"1933
- Vampire film
- Lotte H. Eisner; Hilmar Hoffmann; Walter Schobert (1980), Die dÃ¤monische Leinwand (in German), Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, ISBNÂ 3-596-23660-6Â
- Lotte H. Eisner (1967), Murnau. Der Klassiker des deutschen Films (in German), Velber/Hannover: Friedrich VerlagÂ
- Frieda Grafe; Enno Patalas (2003), Licht aus Berlin. Lang Lubitsch Murnau (in German), Berlin: Verlag Brinkmann & Bose, ISBNÂ 3-922660-81-9, ISBN 9783922660811Â
- Karin MeÃlinger; Vera Thomas (2003), "Nosferatu", in Hans Helmut Prinzler, Friedrich Wilhelm MurnauÂ : ein Melancholiker des Films (in German), Berlin: Bertz Verlag GbR, ISBNÂ 3-929470-25-XÂ
- Brill, Olaf, Film Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (GER 1922) (in German), retrieved 11 June 2009Â (1921-1922 reports and reviews)
- Nosferatu at the Internet Movie Database
- Nosferatu is available for free download at the Internet Archive (alternative link)
- Nosferatu complete film on YouTube