eine Symphonie des Grauens
|Directed by||F. W. Murnau|
|Screenplay by||Henrik Galeen|
by Bram Stoker
|Music by||Hans Erdmann|
|Distributed by||Film Arts Guild|
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 was produced by Prana Film and 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. It is believed by some that these changes were implemented in an attempt to avoid accusations of copyright infringement. However, this seems unlikely as the original German intertitles explicitly state that the film is based on the Bram Stoker novel. Film historian David Karat states in his commentary track for the film that "No source has ever documented" this claim and that since the film was "a low-budget film made by Germans for German audiences... setting it in Germany with German named characters makes the story more tangible and immediate for German speaking viewers".
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.
In 1838, in the fictional German town of Wisborg, Thomas Hutter is sent to Transylvania by his employer, estate agent Herr Knock, to visit a new client named Count Orlok who plans to buy a house across Hutter's own home. While embarking on his journey, Hutter stops at an inn where the locals become frightened by the mere mention of Orlok's name.
Hutter rides on a coach to a castle, where he is welcomed 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 the morning after to find fresh punctures on his neck, which he attributes to mosquitoes. That night, Orlok signs the documents to purchase the house and notices a photo of Hutter's wife, Ellen, 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 onto her balcony's railing, which gets his friend Harding's attention. When 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, only to retreat back into his room after he finds the coffin in which Orlok is resting dormant in the crypt. Hours later, Orlok piles up coffins on a coach and climbs into the last one before the coach departs, and Hutter rushes home after learning this. The coffins are taken onboard on a schooner, where all of the ship's sailors and captain die and Orlok takes control. When the ship arrives in Wisborg, Orlok leaves unobserved, carrying one of his coffins, and moves into the house he purchased.
Many deaths in the town follow after Orlok's arrival, which the town's doctors blame on an unspecified 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, but starts as the sun rises, causing Orlok to vanish in a puff of smoke by the sunlight. 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.
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 shortly after the film's release.
Grau claimed he was inspired to shoot a vampire film by a war experience: in Grau's apocryphal tale, during the winter of 1916, a Serbian farmer told him that his father was a vampire and one of the undead. As film historian David Karat notes in his commentary for the Eureka Blu-ray of "Nosferatu," "much of that [story] is certainly outright bull****. It's a story told to sell movie tickets. Grau spent more on promoting 'Nosferatu' than he spent to make it."
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. Bernard's score was released in 1997 by Silva Screen Records. A version of Erdmann's original score reconstructed by musicologists and composers Gillian Anderson and James Kessler was released in 1995 by BMG Classics, with several missing sequences composed anew, in an attempt to match Erdmann's style.
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. 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, Austria on 16 May 1930 with sound-on-disc accompaniment and a recomposition of Hans Erdmann's original score by Georg Fiebiger, 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 Annie 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 2006 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.
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.
Nosferatu was also the first film to show a vampire dying from exposure to sunlight. Previous vampire novels such as Dracula had shown them being uncomfortable with sunlight, but not life-threateningly so.
This was the only Prana Film; the company filed for bankruptcy and then 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.
In 1997, critic Roger Ebert added Nosferatu to his list of The Great Movies, writing:
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.
A remake by director Werner Herzog, Nosferatu the Vampyre, starred Klaus Kinski (as Count Dracula, not Count Orlok) and was released in 1979.
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 was intended 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." In 2017, it was announced that Anya Taylor-Joy would be featured in the film in an unknown role. 
However, in a 2019 interview, Eggers claimed that he was unsure as to whether the film would still be made, saying "...But also, I don’t know, maybe Nosferatu doesn’t need to be made again, even though I’ve spent so much time on that."
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.