Bram Stoker (story) Henrik Galeen (screen play)
Max Schreck as Orlok
Gustav von Wangenheim as Hutter
Greta Schröder as Ellen Hutter
Alexander Granach as Knock
John Gottowt as Professor Bulwer
Director F.W. Murnau made this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula without the proper copyright permission. There were vague attempts to get around copyright law, such as changing the names of the lead characters and some minor shifts in story line from the Dracula novel, but Stoker’s widow Florence would have none of it.
She sued, and eventually won. The outcome of the lawsuit was that every copy of the film was to be destroyed. Well, that obviously didn’t happen. In fact, some of the older copies of Nosferatu (before the DVD was re-mastered and released again in 2000 at 81 minute runtime) don’t even use the changed names, but refer to “Dracula”, “Harker” and “Dr. Van Helsing” just as Stoker’s novel had.
My personal copy uses the original names and runs for a full 92 minutes. Not sure how I ended up with that one, but I like it.
In this story Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) receives word from his very creepy and spider-eating boss Knock (Alexander Granach) that he should travel to a far away land to sell a large piece of real estate to Orlock (Max Schreck). Hutter is very excited and laughs heartily – he laughs heartily a lot in this film – and sets out for a journey lasting several months.
As Hutter travels he encounters many townspeople, all of whom are of course horrified that he would approach the lair of Count Dracula…uh, I mean Orlock. They do convince him to wait until daylight, as the “phantoms” are at their strongest at night. A couple of quirky thingshappen prior to Hutter meeting the vampire for the first time:
• A wierd-looking zebra/jackle looking dog scares the horses away• Hutter climbs into a jacked-up 4-foot-high bed for the night
• Hutter reads in “The book of the Vampires” to never speak ‘the name Nosferatu aloud’…and then proceeds to hurl the book to the ground with (too much) gusto before laughing heartily again
• Hutter wakes up the next morning, laughing, and ties his nightshirt around his body like a toga.
Now it is time for Hutter to meet Orlock for the first time. This is no classy Count. Orlock is played by Max Schreck much differently than the refined vampires we’ve come to know. Orlock is creepy. He is bald, has rat-like teeth, a strange-shaped head and long spindly hands with two-inch fingernails. I think that Shreck’s version of the prince of darkness will remain one of the most frightening visuals in horror movie history.
For the purposes of setting realistic expectations in case you have not seen Nosferatu before, movies made in 1922 did not have any sound. The actors from this era of film-making were primarily stage actors, so their performances are “larger than life”. It is these elements that add to the fear-factor and brilliance of Nosferatu. Orlock is ugly, stiff and overdone. He is dramatic and sinister, and he is, well, death itself. Wherever Orlock goes there are shrieks of “Plague” and death abounds.
How, then, does Orlock bring Hutter’s wife Ellen into a trance? Why is it that people are drawn to him, in spite of his obvious lack of recognizable charms? This, too, is why this is so scary. Orlock is a terrible evil that you cannot tear yourself away from. That’s the genius.
For its time, Nosferatu is rich in special effects as well. Orlock levitates from his coffin, appears as a transparent image and disappears before your very eyes. His coffin unwraps and opens itself through use of stop-action photography.
In terms of brilliant film-making, enduring characters and unforgettable images, Nosferatu is a movie that you owe it to yourself to see.