# 1 - Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)
F.W. Murnau’s unauthorized film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s definitive vampire novel, Dracula, caused quite an uproar when it was released in 1922 - especially for Stoker’s widow, Florence Balcombe. After successfully suing the production company, Prana Film, Balcombe ordered that all prints be destroyed. Despite the ruling, copies of the illicit film slowly began to surface. While originally very rare, today Nosferatu can be viewed on DVD as well as various internet sites.
What I found so frighteningly endearing about Nosferatu was the way it managed to pull me into a “somnambulistic dream” so easily. It was like a waking nightmare: the shadows (see above) and silhouettes made the scenes strikingly eerie, and the stunning exterior shots - including one on location in the Carpathian mountains - coupled with the use of extreme long shots (to intensify the feelings of isolation) made the dream much more realistic and horrifying.
One of my favorite scenes is Thomas Hutter’s dinner with Count Orlock; the editing is particularly effective. Quickly cutting from Hutter slicing his bread to the Count peering over the top of his letter makes it seem as though Orlock has a kind of sixth sense for detecting blood. The cutaways to the clock on the wall convey the message that Hutter’s time is running out. I also like the close-up of him backing into view, wide-eyed; it allows the viewer to get a better sense of the fear he is feeling.
Fear is essential to Nosferatu’s message. I consider the film an allegory to the dangers of Nazism in Germany. Murnau himself witnessed the spread of the Nazi ideology in his home country and emigrated to America to escape it - like many of the German Expressionist filmmakers. This virulent political plague found its way into Nosferatu, thinly veiled as vampirism. Terrifyingly powerful leaders were at the helm of each disease; Adolf Hitler and Count Orlock, respectively.
Another (sadly, unexpected) idea presented is that of the female character as the hero. This is, unfortunately, rare in films from the 1920’s. Ellen Hutter is a strong woman who doesn’t let her husband make decisions for her. In fact, she completely disregards his command not to read the Book of the Vampires - which is how she figures out how to kill the villain, Orlock, once and for all. She must sacrifice herself in order to keep the monster awake until the sun comes up. In this way, she becomes not only the hero, but a martyr as well, for giving her life to save all of mankind.
I think part of Nosferatu’s lasting influence comes from the underlying political and social messages, buried beneath stunningly horrific visuals and an equally creepy score. While not for everyone, this is a must-see for any true horror fan. With a nightmare this gripping, you won’t want to wake up.
“Lucas, we’re going to Subway - do you want anything?”
1. Jerry Saravia’s thoughts on cinema and pop culture
2. Nosferatu - A Film Archaelogy