Sunday, May 15, 2011

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

Cinema Sweetheart's Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Director: F.W. Murnau
Starring: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schroeder
Rated: Not Rated
Genre: Silent, Horror, Mystery, Fantasy
Runtime: 94 minutes
Other Versions: Dracula (1931), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Dracula (1992)

Nowadays, when you ask someone about a good vampire movie, you’re more than likely going to hear titles like Interview with a Vampire, Dracula, or (God forbid) Twilight.  In my experience, though, I’ve found that the older, “classic” films are usually the best.  And Nosferatu certainly proves this point.  True, it could easily be construed as a bit corny in today’s society, but the iconic nature of this film should absolve it of that scarlet letter.  Personally, I’m a huge fan of classic horror films.  The Wolfman (1941), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) are among my favorites.  And I have a feeling that Nosferatu is going to be making its way onto my shelves at home as well.

When Harker (Wangenheim) receives the assignment of closing a real-estate transaction with Count Dracula (Schreck), he is thrilled with the prospect.  Leaving his wife Nina (Schroeder) at home in England, he goes off to seal the deal, little suspecting that he would become the prisoner of a horrifying vampire.  Nina, meanwhile, is sent to stay with Westenra (G.H. Schell) and Lucy (Ruth Landshoff), who are friends of her husband.  Things go from bad to worse, however, as Harker discovers Dracula’s secret and the Count escapes for England.  Meanwhile, Nina and Harker’s boss Renfield (Alexander Granach) start to suffer from mysterious conditions, characterized with sleepwalking and insanity respectively.  Will Dracula be stopped before he causes too much damage?  Or is England doomed to become a feeding-grounds of a horrifying monster?

One thing I loved about Nosferatu versus the other cinematic vampires was just how creepy he was!  There is nothing attractive about this vampire, which makes him even more unsettling.  Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula was handsome, as was Gary Oldman’s. And apart from his dumb haircut, I’d even say that Edward Cullen has his own level of attraction.   While there is some danger with all of these vampires, Nosferatu reminds us that the original vampires were not so much golden-tongued incubi, but rather, demonic monsters that were supposed to frighten, and not attract.  I’d be far more frightened to find Max Schreck’s vampire standing at my bedside at night than Gary Oldman; that’s to be sure!

I love the use of shadows in this film.  Besides providing an eerie atmosphere, it gives a wonderful added depth to the character of Count Dracula.  Not only does he possess physical power, but he is also able to command shadows; his shadow almost acts as its own powerful being.  In one scene in particular, the shadow’s grip seems almost as powerful as if Nosferatu had used his own hands.  There is little doubt in my mind that this creepy shadow play must have inspired some of the shadow play in both Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), and the highly comedic Mel Brooks spoof Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995).

Shockingly, Nosferatu is one film that should not exist today.  The plot “borrowed” heavily from the plot of Dracula by Bram Stoker, but failed to gain permission to use the plot.  Because of this, various aspects of the plot were changed, including the ending, and various character names.  A few examples are in order…so, listed here are several of the characters, with their names from the original Bram Stoker novel, the original German movie names, and the English adaptation names:

·         Jonathan Harker/Hutter/Harker
·         Mina Murray/Ellen/Nina
·         Rensfield/Knock/Rensfield
·         Count Dracula/Graf Orlock/ Count Dracula

The film survived because a couple of copies were pirated away and hidden until the copyrights were up.  The other copies were rounded up and burned.

I enjoyed this film because I love silent films, old horror films, and vampires.  Max Schreck delivered a deliciously creepy performance, and even though he was only on screen for a very short period of time, I couldn’t help but love his performance.  As with any silent film, it was a bit slow, and a bit corny (especially by today’s standards), but I will say that this Count Dracula had to be the scariest vampire I’ve seen in a long time.  And I don’t mean scary because he was gross or gory; Schreck achieves a certain level of terror just by his appearance and actions.  Too often today, vampire films rely on blood and gore to scare their audiences.  It’s far more difficult to achieve a level of fright by one’s presence, rather than by blood.  I don’t like slasher films, but I love horror films.


  1. You NEED to see John Malkovich's "The Shadow of the Vampire." It make me appreciate "Nosferatu" all the more. :)

  2. It's on my list :) I've been really wanting to watch that! Perhaps the next time we meet up, we can see it together?

  3. One of the best horror classic of all time. Count Orlok is my scariest Dracula. :)

  4. That works for me, Cinema Sweetheart! I just don't know where I can get a copy. Hmmm... I'll figure it out.

  5. Joe,

    It's actually super easy to find a copy of this. First, you can watch the entire thing on YouTube, or if we ever end up meeting with each other, we can watch the VHS version in the campus library, sitting on freakishly uncomfortable chairs ;)


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