Nosferatu (Review)

1922

82 min

Germany

Director: F.W. Murnau

Writers: F.W. Murnau

Stars: Henrick Galeen (Based on Dracula by Bram Stoker)

Release Date: March 4, 1922


Nosferatu remains a pinnacle achievement in Murnau's career, the horror genre and the silent film era.

F.W. Murnau's silent classic is the first film based on Bram Stoker's Dracula, though at the time they couldn't say that as they failed to secure the book rights prior to production. The well-know plot remains intact, namely a property salesman who visits a wealthy yet mysterious Count (his name is Orlak here) interested  in purchasing an estate in Wisborg, Germany. 

The plot points fall in line, one after another, but a strength of any filmmaker is the ability to make the known appear as new. The viewer can then go from merely waiting to being whisked away in the storybook flipping on the screen before them. Murnau and his photographer Fritz Arno Wagner have that kind of power. Silent cinema is the art form at its purest and has the capability of rendering the most potent effect.

Another element in Nosferatu's winning design in the performance by Max Schreck as the eponymous vampire. It's as if they wrangled a real-life phantom to appear on the screen (such is the subject of Shadow of the Vampire). Schreck, heavily aided by prosthetics and make-up, is a ghastly imitation of a man. Seeing his shadow creep up the stairs is iconic and chilling, but when Thomas opens the door into the hallway and sees him standing at the end, wide-eyed and arms extended, I knew I had seen one of the most horrifying images in all of cinema.

After its release the studio was understandably sued by the Stoker estate. The court ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed. By some miracle one print went unscathed and from it the film has been distributed and preserved countless times over. Nosferatu remains a pinnacle achievement in Murnau's career, the horror genre and the silent film era. See it and see it often.

Is this your wife? What a lovely throat.
— Count Orlok