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.
eine Symphonie des Grauens
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||F. W. Murnau|
|Screenplay by||Henrik Galeen|
by Bram Stoker
|Music by||Hans Erdmann|
|Distributed by||Film Arts Guild|
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.
The film was released in the United States on 3 June 1929, seven years after its original premiere in Germany.
In 1838, Thomas Hutter lives in the fictional German town of Wisborg. His employer, estate agent Herr Knock, sends Hutter to Transylvania to visit a new client named Count Orlok who plans to buy a house in Wisborg. Hutter entrusts his wife Ellen to his good friend Harding and Harding's sister Annie before embarking on his journey. Nearing his destination in the Carpathian Mountains, Hutter stops at an inn for dinner. The locals become frightened by the mere mention of Orlok's name and discourage him from traveling to his castle at night, warning of a werewolf on the prowl.
The next morning, Hutter takes a coach to a high mountain pass, but the coachman declines to take him any further than the bridge as nightfall is approaching. Another coach appears after Hutter crosses the bridge and its coachman gestures for him to climb aboard. Hutter is welcomed at a castle 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 to a deserted castle the morning after and notices fresh punctures on his neck which, in a letter he sends by courier on horseback to be delivered to his wife, he attributes to mosquitoes. That night, Orlok signs the documents to purchase the house across from Hutter's own home in Wisborg and notices a photo of Hutter's wife, 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 towards her balcony and onto the railing. Alarmed, Harding shouts Ellen's name and she faints while he asks for a doctor. After 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. In its crypt, he finds the coffin in which Orlok is resting dormant. Hutter becomes horrified and dashes back to his room. Hours later from the window, he sees Orlok piling up coffins on a coach and climbing into the last one before the coach departs. Hutter escapes the castle through the window, but is knocked unconscious by the fall and awakens in a hospital.
After recovering, Hutter hurries home. Meanwhile, the coffins are shipped down river on a raft. They are transferred to a schooner, but not before one is opened by the crew, revealing a multitude of rats. Sailors on the ship fall ill, and soon all but the captain and first mate are dead. The first mate goes below to destroy the coffins, but Orlok awakens and the horrified sailor jumps into the sea. When the ship arrives in Wisborg, Orlok leaves unobserved, carrying one of his coffins, and moves into the house he purchased. The next morning, when the ship is inspected, the captain is found dead. The doctors conclude that the plague is to blame. The town is stricken with panic, and people are warned to stay indoors.
There are many deaths in the town, which are blamed on the 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 as the sun begins to rise. Knock, who has been committed after having murdered the warden of a psychiatric ward, senses the threat to Orlok, but cannot escape his cell to warn him. A rooster crows, and the sunlight causes Orlok to vanish in a puff of smoke. Ellen lives just long enough to be embraced by her grief-stricken husband. Count Orlok's ruined castle in the Carpathian Mountains is then shown.
- 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 Annie
- 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 as mental hospital doctor
- Albert Venohr as sailor two
- Guido Herzfeld as innkeeper
- Karl Etlinger as student with Bulwer
- Fanny Schreck as hospital nurse
Nosferatu has been noted for its themes regarding fear of the Other, as well as for possible anti-Semitic undertones, both of which may have been partially derived from the Bram Stoker novel Dracula, upon which the film was based. The physical appearance of Count Orlok, with his hooked nose, long claw-like fingernails, and large bald head, has been compared to stereotypical caricatures of Jewish people from the time in which Nosferatu was produced. His features have also been compared to those of a rat or a mouse, the former of which Jews were often equated with. Orlok's interest in acquiring property in the German town of Wisborg, a shift in locale from the Stoker novel's London, has also been analyzed as preying on the fears and anxieties of the German public at the time. Writer Tony Magistrale wrote that the film's depiction of an "invasion of the German homeland by an outside force [...] poses disquieting parallels to the anti-Semitic atmosphere festering in Northern Europe in 1922."
When the foreign Orlok arrives in Wisborg by ship, he brings with him a swarm of rats which, in a deviation from the source novel, spread the plague throughout the town. This plot element further associates Orlok with rodents and the idea of the "Jew as disease-causing agent". Writer Kevin Jackson has noted that director F. W. Murnau "was friendly with and protective of a number of Jewish men and women" throughout his life, including Jewish actor Alexander Granach, who plays Knock in Nosferatu. Additionally, Magistrale wrote that Murnau, being a homosexual, would have been "presumably more sensitive to the persecution of a subgroup inside the larger German society". As such, it has been said that perceived associations between Orlok and anti-Semitic stereotypes are unlikely to have been conscious decisions on the part of Murnau.
The studio behind Nosferatu, Prana Film, was a short-lived silent-era German film studio founded in 1921 by Enrico Dieckmann and occultist-artist Albin Grau, named for the Hindu concept of prana. Although the studio's intent was to produce occult- and supernatural-themed films, Nosferatu was its only production, as it declared bankruptcy in order to evade copyright infringement suits from Bram Stoker's widow Florence Balcombe.
Grau had had the idea to shoot a vampire film, the inspiration of which had risen from a war experience: in the winter of 1916, a Serbian farmer told him that his father was a vampire and one of the undead.
Diekmann and Grau gave Henrik Galeen, a disciple of Hanns Heinz Ewers, the task to write a screenplay inspired by the Dracula novel, although Prana Film had not obtained the film rights. Galeen was an experienced specialist in dark romanticism; he had already worked on Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague, 1913), and the screenplay for Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World,1920). Galeen set the story in the fictional north German harbour town of Wisborg. He changed the characters' names and added the idea of the vampire bringing the plague to Wisborg via rats on the ship, and left out the Van Helsing vampire hunter character. Galeen's Expressionist style screenplay was poetically rhythmic, without being so dismembered as other books influenced by literary Expressionism, such as those by Carl Mayer. Lotte Eisner described Galeen's screenplay as "voll Poesie, voll Rhythmus" ("full of poetry, full of rhythm").
Filming began in July 1921, with exterior shots in Wismar. A take from Marienkirche's tower over Wismar marketplace with the Wasserkunst Wismar served as the establishing shot for the Wisborg scene. Other locations were the Wassertor, the Heiligen-Geist-Kirche yard and the harbour. In Lübeck, the abandoned Salzspeicher served as Nosferatu's new Wisborg house, the one of the churchyard of the Aegidienkirche served as Hutter's, and down the Depenau a procession of coffin bearers bore coffins of supposed plague victims. Many scenes of Lübeck appear in the hunt for Knock, who ordered Hutter in the Yard of Füchting to meet Count Orlok. Further exterior shots followed in Lauenburg, Rostock and on Sylt. The exteriors of the film set in Transylvania were actually shot on location in northern Slovakia, including the High Tatras, Vrátna Valley, Orava castle, the Váh River, and the Starý hrad castle. The team filmed interior shots at the JOFA studio in Berlin's Johannisthal locality and further exteriors in the Tegel Forest.
For cost reasons, cameraman Fritz Arno Wagner only had one camera available, and therefore there was only one original negative. The director followed Galeen's screenplay carefully, following handwritten instructions on camera positioning, lighting, and related matters. Nevertheless, Murnau completely rewrote 12 pages of the script, as Galeen's text was missing from the director's working script. This concerned the last scene of the film, in which Ellen sacrifices herself and the vampire dies in the first rays of the Sun. Murnau prepared carefully; there were sketches that were to correspond exactly to each filmed scene, and he used a metronome to control the pace of the acting.
The original score was composed by Hans Erdmann to be performed by an orchestra during screenings. It is also said that the original music was recorded during a screening of the film. However, most of the score has been lost, and what remains is only a reconstitution of the score as it was played in 1922. Thus, throughout the history of Nosferatu screenings, many composers and musicians have written or improvised their own soundtrack to accompany the film. For example, James Bernard, composer of the soundtracks of many Hammer horror films in the late 1950s and 1960s, wrote a score for a reissue.
Deviations from the novelEdit
The story of Nosferatu is similar to that of Dracula and retains the core characters: Jonathan and Mina Harker, the Count, and so on. It omits many of the secondary players, however, such as Arthur and Quincey, and changes the names of those who remain. Some recent re-releases of the film alter the sub-titles to use the Dracula versions of the names. The setting has been transferred from Britain in the 1890s to Germany in 1838.
In contrast to Count Dracula, Orlok does not create other vampires, but kills his victims, causing the townsfolk to blame the plague which ravages the city. Orlok also must sleep by day, as sunlight would kill him, while the original Dracula is only weakened by sunlight. The ending is also substantially different from the Dracula novel; the count is ultimately destroyed at sunrise when the Mina analogue sacrifices herself to him. The town called "Wisborg" in the film is in fact a mix of Wismar and Lübeck; in other versions of the film, the name of the city is changed, for unknown reasons, back to "Bremen".
Shortly before the premiere, an advertisement campaign was placed in issue 21 of the magazine Bühne und Film, with a summary, scene and work photographs, production reports, and essays, including a treatment on vampirism by Albin Grau. Nosferatu's preview premiered on 4 March 1922 in the Marmorsaal of the Berlin Zoological Garden. This was planned as a large society evening entitled Das Fest des Nosferatu (Festival of Nosferatu), and guests were asked to arrive dressed in Biedermeier costume. The cinema premiere itself took place on 15 March 1922 at Berlin's Primus-Palast.
In the 1930s sound version Die zwölfte Stunde – Eine Nacht des Grauens (The Twelfth Hour: A Night of Horror), which is less commonly known, was a completely unauthorized and re-edited version of the film that was released in Vienna (capital of Austria), on 16 May 1930 with sound-on-disc accompaniment and a recomposition of Hans Erdmann's original score by Georg Fiebiger (born 22 June 1901 in Breslau, died in 1950), a German production manager and composer of film music. It had an alternate ending lighter than the original and the characters were renamed again; Count Orlok's name was changed to Prince Wolkoff, Knock became Karsten, Hutter and Ellen became Kundberg and Margitta, and Lucy was changed to Maria. This version, of which Murnau was unaware, contained many scenes filmed by Murnau but not previously released. It also contained additional footage not filmed by Murnau but by a cameraman Günther Krampf under the direction of Waldemar Roger (also known as Waldemar Ronger), supposedly also a film editor and lab chemist. The name of director F. W. Murnau is no longer mentioned in the preamble. This version (edited to approximately 80 minutes) was presented on 5 June 1981 at the Cinémathèque Française. In the 2012 restoration of the film, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung claimed possession of several copies of this version. The film was originally banned completely in Sweden; however, the ban was lifted after twenty years and the film has since been seen on television.
Reception and legacyEdit
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 declared bankruptcy after 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.
This section needs to be updated.December 2019)(
A planned remake by director David Lee Fisher has been in development after being successfully funded on Kickstarter on 3 December 2014. On 13 April 2016, it was reported that Doug Jones had been cast as Count Orlok in the film and that filming had begun. The film will use green screen to insert colorized backgrounds from the original film atop live-action, a process Fisher previously used for his remake of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (2005).
In July 2015, another remake was announced with Robert Eggers writing and directing. The film is set to be produced by Jay Van Hoy and Lars Knudsen for Studio 8. In November 2016, Eggers expressed surprise that the Nosferatu remake was going to be his second film, saying, "It feels ugly and blasphemous and egomaniacal and disgusting for a filmmaker in my place to do Nosferatu next. I was really planning on waiting a while, but that's how fate shook out." However, the project has since been put on hold.
In popular cultureEdit
- The song "Nosferatu" from the album Spectres (1977) by American rock band Blue Öyster Cult is directly about the film.
- The 1979 album Nosferatu by Hugh Cornwell and Robert Williams is a homage to the film, featuring a still from the movie on the front cover and a dedication to Max Schreck.
- The television miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's Salem's Lot (1979) took inspiration from "Nosferatu" for the appearance of its villain, Kurt Barlow. The film's producer Richard Kobritz stated that: "We went back to the old German Nosferatu concept where he is the essence of evil, and not anything romantic or smarmy, or, you know, the rouge-cheeked, widow-peaked Dracula."
- French progressive rock outfit Art Zoyd released Nosferatu (1989) on Mantra Records. Thierry Zaboitzeff and Gérard Hourbette composed the pieces, to correspond with a truncated version of the film, then in circulation in the public domain.
- Bernard J. Taylor adapted the story into the 1995 musical Nosferatu the Vampire. The title character is called Nosferatu, and the plot of the musical follows the plot of Murnau’s film, yet other characters’ names are reverted to names from the novel (Mina, Van Helsing,etc.).
- The 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire, directed by E. Elias Merhige and written by Steven A. Katz, is a fictionalized account of the making of Nosferatu. It stars Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards at the 73rd Academy Awards.
- An opera version of Nosferatu was composed by Alva Henderson in 2004, with libretto by Dana Gioia, was released on CD in 2005, with Douglas Nagel as Count Orlok/Nosferatu, Susan Gundunas as Ellen Hutter (Mina Harker), Robert McPherson as Eric Hutter (Thomas Hutter/Jonathan Harker) and Dennis Rupp as Skuller (Knock/Renfield).
- In 2010, the Mallarme Chamber Players of Durham, North Carolina, commissioned composer Eric J. Schwartz to compose an experimental chamber music score for live performance alongside screenings of the film, which has since been performed a number of times.
- On 28 October 2012, as part of the BBC Radio "Gothic Imagination" series, the film was reimagined on BBC Radio 3 as the radio play Midnight Cry of the Deathbird by Amanda Dalton directed by Susan Roberts, with Malcolm Raeburn playing the role of Graf Orlok (Count Dracula), Sophie Woolley as Ellen Hutter, Henry Devas as Thomas Hutter and Terence Mann as Knock.
- In the Commodore 64 version of the video game Uninvited, when the player reaches the hallway, the narrated text compares the painting to the film Nosferatu.
- In 2018, SLOT Art Festival, Lubiąż Abbey Poland, commissioned composer Philip Shorey to write an experimental film score for an orchestra to be performed along side live screenings of the film. It has since performed under the moniker Curse of the Vampire Orchestra.
- While Nosferatu was intended to be shown with music like most other silent films of the era, most of the original score has been lost. As such, this version of the film does not have any audio.
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Murnau, sein Bildlenker, stellt die Bildchen, sorglich durchgearbeitet, in sich abgeschlossen. Das Schloß des Entsetzens, das Haus des Nosferatu sind packende Leistungen. Ein Motiv-Museum.
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