February 16, 1922 - Nosferatu

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 who preys on the wife (Greta Schröder) of his estate agent (Gustav von Wangenheim) and brings the plague to their town.

Nosferatu was produced by Prana Film and 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. It is believed by some that these changes were implemented in an attempt to avoid accusations of copyright infringement. However, this seems unlikely as the original German intertitles explicitly state that the film is based on the Bram Stoker novel. Film historian David Karat states in his commentary track for the film that “No source has ever documented” this claim and that since the film was “a low-budget film made by Germans for German audiences… setting it in Germany with German named characters makes the story more tangible and immediate for German-speaking viewers”.

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, several prints of Nosferatu survived, and the film came to be regarded as an influential masterpiece of cinema.

 

Plot

An iconic shot of the shadow of Count Orlok ascending a staircase

In 1838, in the fictional German town of Wisborg,[1][6] Thomas Hutter is sent to Transylvania by his employer, estate agent Herr Knock, to visit a new client named Count Orlok who plans to buy a house across from Hutter’s own home. While embarking on his journey, Hutter stops at an inn where the locals become frightened by the mere mention of Orlok’s name.

Hutter rides on a coach to a castle, where he is welcomed 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 the morning after to find fresh punctures on his neck, which he attributes to mosquitoes. That night, Orlok signs the documents to purchase the house and notices a photo of Hutter’s wife, Ellen, remarking that she has a “lovely neck.” Reading a book about vampires that he took from the local inn, Hutter starts to suspect that Orlok is a vampire. He cowers in his room as midnight approaches, with no way to bar the door. The door opens by itself and Orlok enters, and Hutter hides under the bed covers and falls unconscious. Meanwhile, his wife awakens from her sleep, and in a trance walks onto her balcony’s railing, which gets his friend Harding’s attention. When the doctor arrives, she shouts Hutter’s name, apparently able to see Orlok in his castle threatening her unconscious husband.

The next day, Hutter explores the castle, only to retreat back into his room after he finds the coffin in which Orlok is resting dormant in the crypt. Hours later, Orlok piles up coffins on a coach and climbs into the last one before the coach departs, and Hutter rushes home after learning this. The coffins are taken aboard a schooner, where all of the ship’s sailors and captain die and Orlok takes control. When the ship arrives in Wisborg, Orlok leaves unobserved, carrying one of his coffins, and moves into the house he purchased.

Many deaths in the town follow after Orlok’s arrival, which the town’s doctors blame on an unspecified plague. Ellen reads the book Hutter found, which claims that a vampire can be defeated if a pure-hearted woman distracts the vampire with her beauty. She opens her window to invite Orlok in, but faints. Hutter revives her, and she sends him to fetch Professor Bulwer, a physician. After he leaves, Orlok enters and drinks her blood, but starts as the sun rises, causing Orlok to vanish in a puff of smoke by the sunlight. Ellen lives just long enough to be embraced by her grief-stricken husband.

The last scene shows Count Orlok’s destroyed castle in the Carpathian Mountains, symbolizing the end of his bloody reign of terror.

Cast

Max Schreck as Count Orlok
Gustav von Wangenheim as Thomas Hutter
Greta Schröder as Ellen Hutter
Alexander Granach as Knock
Georg H. Schnell as Shipowner Harding
Ruth Landshoff as Ruth
John Gottowt as Professor Bulwer
Gustav Botz as Professor Sievers
Max Nemetz as The Captain of The Empusa
Wolfgang Heinz as First Mate of The Empusa
Hardy von Francois [de] as Mental Hospital Doctor
Albert Venohr [de] as Sailor Two
Guido Herzfeld as Innkeeper
Karl Etlinger as Student with Bulwer
Fanny Schreck as Hospital Nurse