Horror Film Countdown: Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu, (1922), dir. F.W. Murnau, Film Arts Guild

Technically not the first vampire film, as that honor would go to the 1921 Hungarian film The Death of Dracula, but this is the oldest surviving one. Directed by the legendary F.W. Murnau, how does the first adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel hold up?

Thomas Hutter (Gustav Von Wangenheim), a young real estate agent in the bustling city of Wismar, is tasked to complete a huge sale, one that will bring a great deal of money to his firm and himself. Hutter is hesitant, as the transaction will involve being away from his newlywed wife Nina (Greta Schroeder) and in the barren countryside, but the allure of money is great and soon Thomas is bound for the remote castle of Count Orlock (Max Schreck) deep within the Transylvanian mountains.

Things don’t go as expected. The villagers seem thrown into a panic whenever Thomas mentions his destination or his benefactor. He is left on the side of the road by his coachman. Only the timely arrival from another coach, sent by the Count, keeps him from walking the rest of the way towards the castle.
Once he arrives he meets Orlock in person, and what a person! No pigment, rat like teeth, no hair on his head, dagger like fingernails and claw like hands, Orlock is leagues away from the suave nobleman of later screen versions.

From there the film follows the novel more or less faithfully. There are some differences of course, but as a story it is nearly a perfect version of Dracula. Murnau’s cinematography is breathtaking, with different camera angles and some truly spectacular outdoor shots. Of course, all of this may not have existed if the producers had listened to Stoker’s widow and cancelled the project after they failed to pay her royalties. We should be thankful some prints survived the court ordered destruction. Well worth the effort to track down and see.