Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror) is a 1922 German Expressionist horror film, directed by F. W. Murnau, starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok.

'Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari'
German Expressionism refers to a number of related creative movements beginning in Germany before the First World War that reached a peak in Berlin, during the 1920s. These developments in Germany were part of a larger Expressionist movement in north and central European culture in fields such as architecture, painting and cinema. German Expressionist films produced in the Weimar Republic immediately following the First World War not only encapsulate the socio-political contexts in which they were created, but also rework the intrinsically modern problems of self-reflexivity, spectacle and identity. Robert Wiene's silent film 'Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari' (1919) is universally recognized as an early classic of Expressionist cinema. This film movement paralleled Expressionist painting and theatre in rejecting realism. The creators of the time sought to convey inner, subjective experience through external, objective means. Their films were characterized by highly stylized sets and acting; they used a new visual style which embodied high contrast and simple editing. The films were shot in studios where they could employ deliberately exaggerated and dramatic lighting and camera angles to emphasize some particular affect - fear, horror, pain. The movement ended after the currency stabilized, making it cheaper to buy movies abroad.

Friedrich Wilhelm "F. W." Murnau
Friedrich Wilhelm "F. W." Murnau (born Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe; December 28, 1888 – March 11, 1931) was one of the most influential German film directors of the silent era, and a prominent figure in the expressionist movement in German cinema during the 1920s. Murnau was greatly influenced by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Ibsen plays he had seen at the age of 12, and became a friend of director Max Reinhardt. During World War I he served as a company commander at the eastern front and was in the German air force, surviving several crashes without any severe injuries.

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens
The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain the rights to the novel (for instance, "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok").

Abraham "Bram" Stoker
Abraham "Bram" Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912) was an Irish novelist and short story writer, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel 'Dracula'. During his lifetime, he was better known as personal assistant of actor Henry Irving, and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned. Stoker had an interest in the occult especially mesmerism. In the mid-1890s, Stoker is rumoured to have become a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. One of Stoker's closest friends was J.W. Brodie-Innis, a major figure in the Order.

Stoker's heirs sued over the adaptation, and a court ruling ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed, however, one print of Nosferatu survived, and the film came to be regarded as an influential masterpiece of cinema.


Thomas Hutter lives in the fictitious German city of Wisborg.
His employer, Knock, sends Hutter to Transylvania to visit a new client named Count Orlok. 
Hutter entrusts his loving wife Ellen to his good friend Harding and Harding's sister Annie, before embarking on his long 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.

Thomas Hutter and Nosferatu
The next morning, Hutter takes a coach to a high mountain pass, but the coachmen decline to take him any further than the bridge as nightfall is approaching.
A black-swathed coach appears after Hutter crosses the bridge and the 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.

Count Orlok's Castle
Hutter wakes up to a deserted castle the morning after and notices fresh punctures on his neck, which he attributes to mosquitoes or spiders.
That night, Orlok signs the documents to purchase the house across from Hutter's own home. 
Hutter writes a letter to his wife and gets a coachman to send it.
Reading a book about vampires that he took from the local inn, Hutter starts to suspect that Orlok is Nosferatu, the "Bird of Death."
He cowers in his room as midnight approaches, but there is no way to bar the door.
The door opens by itself and Orlok enters, his true nature finally revealed, and Hutter falls unconscious.

 Orlok Resting Dormant
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 awakes in a hospital.
When he is sufficiently recovered, he 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.

Count Orlok Stalks the Ship
The sailors on the ship get sick one by one; soon all but the captain and first mate are dead. 
Suspecting the truth, the first mate goes below to destroy the coffins, however, Orlok awakens and the horrified sailor jumps into the sea.
Unaware of his danger, the captain becomes Orlok's latest victim when he ties himself to the wheel.
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.
After examining the logbook, the doctors assume they are dealing with the plague.
The town is stricken with panic, and people are warned to stay inside.
There are many deaths in the town, which are blamed on the plague.
Knock, who had been committed to a psychiatric ward, escapes after murdering the warden. 

Count Orlock and Ellen
The townspeople give chase, but he eludes them by climbing a roof, then using a scarecrow. 
Meanwhile, Orlok stares from his window at the sleeping Ellen.
Against her husband's wishes, Ellen had read the book he found.
The book claims that the way to defeat a vampire is for a woman who is pure in heart to distract the vampire with her beauty all through the night.
She opens her window to invite him in, but faints.
When Hutter revives her, she sends him to fetch Professor Bulwer.

After he leaves, Orlok comes in.
He becomes so engrossed drinking her blood that he forgets about the coming day.
When a rooster crows, Orlok vanishes in a puff of smoke as he tries to flee.
Ellen lives just long enough to be embraced by her grief-stricken husband.
The last scene shows Count Orlok's ruined castle in the Carpathian Mountains, symbolizing the end of Count Orlok's reign of terror.
Count Orlok is the main model for a style of fictional vampire that is often nicknamed Nosferatu after the movie. Although based upon Count Dracula, Orlok possesses none of his predecessor's aristocratic charm or seductiveness.
He resembles historical folklore accounts of vampires, which were described as walking corpses inhabited by a demonic presence.
He sleeps in "unhallowed" soil infected with the Black Death, and brings plague and disease with him.
He is followed everywhere by rats, traditional carriers of the feared Black Death.
Orlok is famous for being the first vampire in history to be destroyed by sunlight.
In earlier folklore, vampires were disgusted by but could survive sunlight.


Max Schreck as Count Orlok
Gustav von Wangenheim as Thomas Hutter
Greta Schröder as Ellen Hutter
Alexander Granach as Knock
Ruth Landshoff as Annie
Wolfgang Heinz as First Mate of The Empusa
Georg H. Schnell as Harding
John Gottowt as Professor Bulwer
Gustav Botz as Professor Sievers
Max Nemetz as The Captain of The Empusa
Heinrich Witte as guard in asylum
Guido Herzfeld as innkeeper
Karl Etlinger as student with Bulwer
Hardy von Francois as hospital doctor
Fanny Schreck as hospital nurse


Albin Grau
Nosferatu was the only production of Prana Film, founded in 1921 by Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau.
Grau had the idea to shoot a vampire film; the inspiration arose from Grau's 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 the task to write a screenplay inspired from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel 'Dracula', despite Prana Film not having obtained the film rights.
Galeen was an experienced specialist in 'Dunkle Romantik' (Dark Romanticism); he had already worked on 'Der Student von Prag' (The Student of Prague) in 1913, and the screenplay for 'Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam' (The Golem: How He Came into the World) (1920). 

'Der Student von Prag'
Henrik Galeen
Galeen set the story in a fictional north German harbour town named Wisborg, and changed the character names.
He added the idea of the vampire bringing the plague to Wisborg via rats on the ship.
He 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").

Heiligen-Geist-Kirche - Wismar
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 from Aegidienkirche served as Hutters and down the Depenau coffin bearers bore coffins.
Many walks of Lübeck took place in the hunt of Knock, who ordered Hutter in the Yard of Füchting to meet the earl.
Further exterior shots followed in Lauenburg, Rostock and on Sylt.

Orava Castle
Orava Castle
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 Starhrad.
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 the projection, however, most of the score has been lost, and what remains is only a reconstitution of the score as it was played in 1922.
This is why so many composers and musicians have written or improvised their own soundtracks, by and large unsuccessfully, to accompany the film.

Contemporary criticism

'Nosferatu' brought the director Murnau reinforced into the public eye, especially since his film 'The Burning Acker' was released a few days later.
The press reported extensively on 'Nosferatu' and its première.
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 criticized the fact that the vampire was too corporeal in the film, and brightly lit to be really scary to act: "What is an advantage of ... reality faithful films must be rated to the contrary in a work from the unreality. Here the artistic obscurity of the shades must prevail. ... For with the increasing brightness will now lose once every specter its horrors."
Also, the film of 12 March 1922, recorded that the vampire figure would have had a greater impact, "if the people of the action in the foreground and he would more more than schemes under them."
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' newspaper of 7 March 1922 is Nosferatu awarded a specifically cinematic quality, the staging was "speaking ramp foreign, hostile book, A movie-style.(?)"
Also, the film of 12 March 1922 praised the selection of images that "a perfectly fine picturesque meaning" was made.

Deviations from the Novel

The story of Nosferatu is similar to that of Dracula, and retains the core characters - Jonathan and Mina Harker, the Count, etc. - but omits many of the secondary players, such as Arthur and Quincey, and changes all of the characters' names (although in some recent releases of this film, which is now in the public domain in the United States, but not in most European countries, the written dialogue screens have been changed 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 Dracula, Orlok does not create other vampires, but kills his victims, causing the town-folk to blame the plague, which ravages the city.
Also, Orlok 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 that of Dracula.
The count is ultimately destroyed at sunrise when the "Mina" character sacrifices herself to him. 
The town called "Wisborg" in the film is in fact a mix of Wismar and Lübeck.


Shortly before the première, an advertisement campaign was placed in issue 21 of the magazine 'Bühne und Film' (Stage and Film), with a summary, scene and work photographs, production reports, and essays, including a treatment on vampirism by Albin Grau.
Nosferatu's preview premièred on 4 March 1922 in the 'Marmorsaal' of the Zoologischer Garten Berlin (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 première itself took place on 15 March 1922 at Berlin's Primus-Palast.


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 copy of the film had already been distributed around the world.
These prints were duplicated over the years, kept alive by a cult following, making it an example of an early cult film.
The movie has received overwhelmingly positive reviews.
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....'
'Nosferatu' remains effective: It doesn’t scare us, but it haunts us.
In 2012, scenes from the film were used in the exhibition 'Dark Romanticism', at the Städel in Frankfurt, as an example to illustrate the way in which ideas developed in 18th- and 19th-century art influenced story telling and aesthetics in 20th-century cinema.

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