The PlotEditThomas Hutter (Jonathan Harker in Stoker's novel) lives in the fictitious German city of Wisborg. His employer, Knock (Stoker's Renfield), sends Hutter to Transylvania to visit a new client named Count Orlok (Stoker's Count Dracula). Hutter entrusts his loving wife Ellen (Stoker's Mina Harker) to his good friend Harding (Stoker's Arthur Holmwood) and Harding's sister Annie (Stoker's Lucy Westenra), 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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 (Stoker's Abraham Van Helsing). 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.
- Max Schreck as Count Orlok
- Gustav von Wangenheim as Thomas Hutter
- Greta Schröder as Ellen Hutter
- Alexander Granach as Knock
- Georg H. Schnell as Harding
- Ruth Landshoff as Ruth
- 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
- 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
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 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). 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").
This Lübecker Salzspeicher served as the set for Orlok's house in Wisborg.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. 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.
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.
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, 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 townfolk 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.
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 soundtrack to accompany the film. For example, James Bernard, composer of the soundtracks of many Hammer horror films in the late 50s and all the 60s decade, including the Dracula and Frankenstein series, has written a score for a reissue of Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror.
In 2006, the French composer Alexis Savelief finished the composition of his score for Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror. His soundtrack is intended to be performed during the film by a cello octet, three synthesizers and two percussionists. Despite the constraints imposed by the cine-concert format, the score is perfectly synchronized throughout the whole film, by means of a variable click-track. Performed in first audition by the Cello Octet of Beauvais and the 2e2m ensemble directed by Pierre Roullier, the following year Alexis Savelief arranged his score for eight strings, three synthesizers and two percussionists. This version has been presented in first audition under the direction of conductor Jean-Louis Forestier.
On Halloween of 2009, the American film scoring ensemble The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra premiered its new score for Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror as part of Vanderbilt University's International Lens film series. The score is synchronized with the film, and is written for Wurlitzer electric piano, theremin, vibraphone, electric guitar, two violins, viola, trombone, trumpet and one percussionist.
In 2010 The Mallarme Chamber Players of Durham, NC 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. It is written for flute, bassoon, keyboard, percussion, viola, and electronics.
This was the only Prana Film; the company declared bankruptcy after Bram 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.
The movie has received not only a strong cult following, but also overwhelmingly positive reviews. On Rottentomatoes.com it has a "Certified Fresh" label and holds a 98% "fresh" rating based on 46 reviews. It was ranked twenty-first in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010.
- Werner Herzog's 1979 tribute to Nosferatu, Nosferatu the Vampyre starred Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula, not Orlok.
- The 1979 television movie Salem's Lot modeled the appearance of Mr. Barlow on that of Count Orlok.
- The 2000 horror film Shadow of the Vampire, directed by E. Elias Merhige and written by Steven A. Katz is a fictionalised account of the making of Nosferatu. *In 1921, director F. W. Murnau (played by John Malkovich) takes his Berlin-based cast and crew on-location to a castle in Slovakia to make a vampire film. There they meet "Max Schreck", who is to play the vampire and who they believe is a character actor who has been living in the castle for some weeks to get into the role. In fact, Murnau has made a deal with a true vampire to act in the film, in order to give the greatest possible degree of realism.
The song "Waiting for the sun" by Australian rock group The Angels is dedicated to the film.