In this highly influential silent horror film, the mysterious Count Orlok summons Thomas Hutter to his remote Transylvanian castle in the mountains. The eerie Orlok seeks to buy a house near Hutter and his wife, Ellen. After Orlok reveals his vampire nature, Hutter struggles to escape the castle, knowing that Ellen is in grave danger. Meanwhile Orlok’s servant, Knock, prepares for his master to arrive at his new home.
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (German: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens) is a 1922 silent German Expressionist horror film directed by F. W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck as Count Orlok, a vampire with an interest in both a new residence and the wife (Greta Schröder) of his estate agent (Gustav von Wangenheim). The film is an unauthorized and unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. Various names and other details were changed from the novel, including Count Dracula being renamed Count Orlok to avoid copyright issues.
Even with several details altered, Stoker’s heirs sued over the adaptation, and a court ruling ordered all copies of the film to be destroyed. However, a few prints of Nosferatu survived, and the film came to be regarded as an influential masterpiece of cinema.
Reception & Legacy
Nosferatu brought Murnau into the public eye, especially when his film Der brennende Acker (The Burning Soil) 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 Zeitung of 7 March 1922, Nosferatu was praised for its visual style.
This was the only Prana Film; the company filed for bankruptcy and then 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 print of the film had already been distributed around the world. This print was duplicated over the years, kept alive by a cult following, making it an example of an early cult film.
The film has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 97% based on 63 reviews, with an average rating of 9.05/10. The website’s critical consensus reads, “One of the silent era’s most influential masterpieces, Nosferatu‘s eerie, gothic feel—and a chilling performance from Max Schreck as the vampire—set the template for the horror films that followed.” It was ranked twenty-first in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films of World Cinema” in 2010.
Here is the story of Dracula before it was buried alive in clichés, 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 skilful 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 doesn’t scare us, but it haunts us.