Before the rise of vampires in pop culture, before all the glistening bodies and sex, there was Dracula. Sleeping during the day and hunting at night...vampires have this counter intuitive nature that humans really seem drawn towards. Subtle romanticism, gothic scenes, and beautiful poetry all go along with the vampire culture. Nosferatu, which is an unauthorized rendition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, represents the birth of many of these styles in cinema. While we must respect the classics and their ability to bring something new to the horror genre, Nosferatu is not without faults that really damper the viewing experience.
While many of the names were changed, Nosferatu is basically the same story as Dracula. A naive and energetic real estate agent, Thomas Hutter, is asked to go to Transylvania to visit a potential client, Count Orlok. The Count is rumored to be the embodiment of evil...so evil in fact that even mentioning his name results in the towns people cowering in fear. The unassuming Hutter pushes on to Orlok's castle to realize that the rumors are true and the Count is a vampire.
Important themes are brought forth in this film and important standards for the horror genre. Gothic artistry and romanticism are utilized over and over in films like Interview with the Vampire, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and even Let the Right One In. It is quite possible these films wouldn’t exist without the creation of Nosferatu, or more importantly Bram Stoker’s work. Sadly, there are also horror cliches that pop up even in a film created in 1922. Hutter is unbearably idiotic in his complete discounting of every warning sign. You know how you are constantly annoyed when a horror character hears something in the basement...and goes down there knowing that a killer is loose? Well Nosferatu has that in spades.
On a positive note, while Nosferatu is a silent film, its text eloquently describes the scene. Sadly, its score really takes that beauty away. The original music was meant to be played by orchestra and has been lost to time. What we end up with is a score that many times hurt the ears and takes you away from the film. Nosferatu also has a run time of 94 minutes. While that is incredibly impressive considering the year, the film seems long at times.
Comparison is a wonderful tool for judging art. I can’t help but compare Nosferatu to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Created two years earlier, Dr. Caligari’s score, art design, and storytelling is masterful. Does Nosferatu hit those levels? In my opinion no. The story created in Nosferatu is intriguing, especially its connection with The Plague, but ultimately the score and horror cliches hurt Nosferatu’s viewing experience. You have to praise the film for what it brought to the screen, but let's not forget that literary authors like Bram Stoker, Emily Gerard, and Sheridan Le Fanu were the true masterminds behind vampires.
Nosferatu is the groundwork that many horror films build off of. Sadly, the groundwork isn’t always beautiful or perfect. If you are a true fan of horror history or cinematography, than this film is a must watch. If you prefer to drink the blood of more refined horror movies, then this one may leave a not so great taste in your mouth. Nevertheless, the impact this movie had on horror cinema can’t be understated and therefore must be respected...to an extent.
If you liked Nosferatu, you might also like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Interview with the Vampire.