Nosferatu (1922) – Review by Billz

Gores Truly is femme-driven but certainly not man-hating. Occasionally, we want to give our readers a chance to contribute to the horror-fest that we all adore – including those wielding the Y-Chromosome. The following article has been Murder-Her approved. Watch out! It’s an Invasion of the Y-Chromosome!

Nosferatu, directed by F.W. Murnau, is the forefather of vampire films. Untouched by modern clichés, it stakes its claim in vampire lore. It may not be the most popular vampire film but it is certainly an acknowledged and historical one.

The story is a knockoff of Dracula. From Wikipedia:

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”).

Upon its release on March 4, 1922, Bram Stoker’s widow filed a lawsuit seeking destruction of all prints of Nosferatu. Fortunately for us, she failed in her endeavours.

The story is simple. Thomas Hutter is a realtor sent to Transylvania to sell a house to Count Orlok in Thomas’ hometown of Wisborg, Germany. He must leave behind his lovesick wife, Ellen, to make the long journey. Local villagers try to discourage Hutter from his travels to no avail. Orlok opens to his home to Hutter who awakens to find two fresh bite wounds on his neck.

Hutter suspects mosquitoes and carries on with his jovial nature. Orlok reveals his true nature at midnight and attacks. It’s at this point that one of the story’s many mysteries occurs. Ellen, many miles away in Wisborg, sleepwalks and calls out to Hutter. Orlok hears this and backs away from Hutter. It’s as if the trio share a psychic bond.

Orlok sets upon Wisborg with Hutter in pursuit. He packs up his coffins (why does he have six coffins?) and boards a seafaring vessel. The ship arrives with the Captain dead and the crew missing. The rats in the coffins are assumed to carry the plague and the town is on alert.

Hutter returns to Ellen. During his travels, he picked up a copy of “The Book of Vampires.” Ellen peruses the book and learns that to kill a vampire, a sinless woman must offer herself so that he may lose track of time. By doing so, Ellen distracts Orlok from the rising sun which kills him.

Ellen vs. Orlok. Who's paler?

There are some nagging questions surrounding the motivations of the characters. Why does Orlok want to leave Transylvania? Why is Hutter cheerful when he’s away from his wife that he misses dearly? What role does Knock (Hutter’s boss) play? He’s locked up for an episode of mania and calls out “Master!” when Orlok arrives.

The film takes a few detours from established vampire mythos. When a Nosferatu bites a victim, the person dies and does not return from the dead. There are no legions of Nosferati following Orlok around. A Nosferatu gains his power from the soil he was buried in. Because of this, we’re treated to a scene of Orlok personally carrying his coffin. The Lord of Darkness, the Killer of killers, relegated to a lowly porter.

Silent film was a blossoming art form and held to different standards in its day. If it were remade today, shot for shot, it would be criticized for its blatant plot holes and loose ends.

That said, I didn’t watch this film for its story. I watched it for Max Schreck – the man who created an icon. Count Orlok is a walking nightmare. He appears undead with his slow gait and stiff movements. His unblinking eyes and over the top eyebrows are hypnotizing. But it’s his overall stature that creeps me out. His gaunt frame beholds an oversized head that appears to stretch his neck beyond the limits of human anatomy. Add in the grotesquely extended fingernails and giant fangs and you have a face only a makeup artist could love.

A face only a makeup artist could love.

It’s this cursed image that makes Nosferatu stand apart from today’s vampires. Orlok is truly a cursed monster. There’s nothing romantic or cool about him. He is not adored like Dracula and his dashing cape or the Lost Boys and their mullets.

The picture is aged and jumpy but it does not distract from the story. In a way, it enhances it. The graininess hides any makeup lines on Max’s face and the aged look adds to the tone. Night and day are difficult to determine and it makes it feel like an eerie dream.

The cinematography is glorious, due to Murnau’s unconventional decision to shoot all exterior shots on real locations, not studio sets. We’re treated to beautiful scenery and architecture from German towns Wismar, Lauenberg, Rostock, and the island of Sylt. In Slovakia, Orava Castle served as Count Orlok’s castle.

The greatest tragedy in the history of Nosferatu is the music. The original score was composed by Hans Erdmann, but it has been lost. Any accompanying music today is contemporary… and it doesn’t fit. The version I watched on Netflix featured strings, piano, xylophone, and bongos. Yes. Bongos. At times the score was gothic. At times I felt like I was watching a documentary on the Zulu tribe of South Africa. It’s a tragedy that Erdmann’s work can never be reclaimed.

A silent film lives and breathes through music. When you have no audio, no dialogue, no background noise, no sound effects, the music takes center stage. Without it, you’re truly watching a silent film.


About the Author: 

Billz hopes to one day prove that aliens are misunderstood creatures that really just want a hug – and to disembowel you. When he’s not running from Purple People Eaters, he’s likely watching monster flicks, or dreaming of one day filming his own.


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About Billz

Billz hopes to one day prove that aliens are misunderstood creatures that really just want a hug - and to disembowel you. When he's not running from Purple People Eaters, he's likely watching monster flicks, or dreaming of one day filming his own.