"Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens" a Classic of Silent Horror

Considered by many to be one of the greatest films in the history of cinema, Nosferatu suffered a number of legal procedures that led to the destruction of almost all copies except one. This one copy, preserved for future generations of film lovers, is now the evidence of a truly great and remarkable work of film art that stood the test of time.

The Story

The story takes place in 1838. Hutter and Ellen are a happy young couple living in a fictitious city Wisborg situated somewhere in Northern Germany. One day the real estate agent Knock sends Hutter to Carpathian Mountains to a client who is willing to purchase one of the empty houses standing opposite of the young family's home. The client appears to be a vampire, who's plan is to bring death to Wisborg by sucking blood of the innocent civilians.

Cinematography

Just like other films of the early 20th century, Nosferatu is mostly comprised of static shots, with a long shot of the floating ship being the only exception (it is obvious that it was tracked from another vessel), but it never makes the film boring to watch. The framing is simple and clean but nevertheless well - balanced. In addition, there are really interesting cinematic effects that are meant to increase the scary mood of the film: speed up of some shots with the vampire, overlaying of frames (used to create the effect of the vampire passing through closed doors), and the effect of the vampire's coffin lid moving by itself.

One of the most notable cinematic effects is the use of long shadows of the vampire figure. The pointed ears and long nails of count Orlok produce such a striking effect when reflected on the walls, that some of the shots became legendary in the world of cinema.

It is worth mentioning that an old and worn off film creates some sort of filter-like effect that fits the scary mood of the film very well, in addition to day-to-night filter that is used in exterior scenes with Orlok.

Characters and acting

The list of main characters in "Nosferatu" as follows:

Comparison of "Nosferatu" and "Dracula" main characters

Character
Performed by
"Dracula" character
Graf Orlok
Max Schreck
Count Dracula
Hutter
Gustav von Wangenheim
Jonathan Harker
Ellen
Greta Schroeder
Mina
Knock, ein Häusermakler
Alexander Granach
Renfield
 
 
 

The most noticeable appearance in "Nosferatu" is, of course, Max Schreck's vampire. The creature's dingy coat, pointed ears and sunken non-blinking eyes altogether with minimalistic body movements make an unforgettable character. It is because of copyright issues that the names of the characters (as well as locations) had to be changed. However, I do not believe that it made the film less entertaining than the famous written classic: "Nosferatu" sounds as cold and evil as "Dracula" and stands for Romanian repugnant one or vampire. (1)

Real estate agency servant Hutter's behavior brings to mind a typical Gothic Novel hero - an unfortunate young man who has to undergo numerous misfortunes before he gets a chance to save his beloved woman. Ellen, performed by Greta Schroeder, is a heroine who is at danger of being possessed by evil forces after Hutter leaves her. She eventually has to sacrifice her security in order to destroy the vampire who gets obsessed with the woman's pure beauty and human qualities.

However, Count Orlok is not alone in his "business" - he is covered by a mad real estate agent Knok (Renfield in original novel) performed by Alexander Granach. Just like Renfield, the madman Knok calls the vampire his master. By the time Nosferatu arrives, the madman ends up in a mental asylum.

The view of the house that count Orlok was purchasing.
The view of the house that count Orlok was purchasing. | Source

The Score

Back in 1920s it was still impossible to synchronize music for film (a life orchestra was usually invited to play along during screenings), so the contemporary copies of "Nosferatu" are distributed with a number of soundtracks from different composers. Considering the fact that the work is already listed among public domain films in the United States, there is enough room for any composer to try their craft - the scarier the better. Being a film school student myself, I personally heard different versions of the soundtrack, which vary from music to sound design, and they all more or less fit the mood of the film.

"Nosferatu" (1922) fan made trailer

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