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Nosferatu (1922) - F.W. Murnau

Related: German cinema - horror film

Count Orlok in Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu (1922) - F.W. Murnau [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Nosferatu (1922) - F.W. Murnau [Amazon.com]


Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens ("A Symphony of Horrors" in German) is a German Expressionist film originally shot in 1922 by F.W. Murnau. He had wanted to film a version of Bram Stoker's Dracula, but his studio was unable to obtain the rights to the story. Murnau decided to film his own version and made only slight changes to the story. The resultant movie has many similarities to Stoker's original tale.

"Dracula" became "Nosferatu" (according to Stoker, the Old European word for "vampire" although not found in any European language before "Dracula") and the names of the characters changed, with Count Dracula changed to Count Orlok. The role of the vampire was played by Max Schreck. Other major actors in the film were: Gustave Von Wagenheim, Greta Schroeder, Alexander Granach

Stoker's estate sued for copyright infringement and won. The court ordered all existing prints of Nosferatu destroyed, but a number of copies of the film had already been distributed around the world. These prints were then copied over the years, resulting in Nosferatu gaining a reputation as one of the greatest movie depictions of the vampire legend.

This was the first, and last, film of the production company Prana-Film GmbH. With all prints and negatives ordered destroyed they declared bankruptcy rather than pay compensation to Florence Stoker, Bram Stokerís widow.

With the influence of producer and production designer, Albin Grau, the film established one of two main lines of vampire depiction in movies. The "Nosferatu-type" is a living corpse with rodent features (especially elongated fingernails and incisors), is associated with rats and plague and can only be defeated by a virgin sacrifice; he is neither charming nor erotic but totally repugnant. The victims usually die and are not turned into vampires themselves.

The more common other line is the "Dracula-type" (established by Lugosi and perpetuated by Lee), a charming aristocrat adept at seduction and turning his victims into new vampires.

Parts of the film allegedly showing Transylvania were filmed in Slovakia, e.g. Nosferatu's castle is the Orava castle in northern Slovakia.

Murnau's Nosferatu is in the public domain, and copies of the movie are widely available on video -- usually as poorly transferred, faded, scratched video copies that are often scorned by enthusiasts. However, pristine restored editions of the film have also been made available, and are also readily accessible to the public. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nosferatu [Apr 2005]

Sean Axmaker review
F.W. Murnau changed the name and ghastly appearance of his villain, but this unauthorized version of Bram Stoker's Dracula couldn't fool the Stoker estate, and it became the center of a lawsuit that almost resulted in its complete destruction. Thankfully this masterpiece survives (though in a somewhat altered form), for despite its liberties with the novel, this 1921 horror classic remains the most beautiful and resonant interpretation of Stoker. Though the plot remains essentially the same--naive real-estate clerk Thomas (Gustav von Wangenheim) is sent abroad to finalize a sale with the nocturnal Count Orlock (the hideous-looking Max Schreck), who imprisons Thomas and travels to England to claim Thomas's beautiful young wife, Ellen (Greta Schroder), as his own--the visual realization creates a very different story. Schreck plays the vampire as a grotesque demon, with his claw-like hands, bald head and sharp, bat-like ears, and he rises from his coffin with an supernatural stiffness, like a tent pole pulled upright. When the eerily empty ghost ship carrying his coffin arrives in Thomas's home port, a river of rats pours out and spreads through the town like a plague. Perhaps the most noticeable changes from the novel are the absence of Van Helsing and the richer realization of Ellen, the would-be victim, whose innate sensibility and solemn spirituality give her a spooky connection with the vampire. With his stark, symbol-laden visual scheme and sacrificial conclusion, Murnau creates a more mythic tale than any subsequent adaptation of Stoker's novel. --Sean Axmaker for amazon.com

Review by Noel O'Shea
The other great silent horror masterpiece is undoubtedly F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922), still the most sublime vampire film ever made. The appearance of Max Schreck as the vampire Graf Orlok - with his hideous pointy teeth and shrivelled skin - was enough to have audiences fleeing cinemas in horror, but if they fled too early then they missed a superbly crafted horror film. Murnau, regarded as one of the leading poets of The Silent Era, had a unique sense of composition, and every frame is a testament to the director's skill (the sequence set aboard the ship still has great power). Even though the director rarely moves his camera, Nosferatu avoids the staginess of Tod Browning's Dracula by having characters move within the frame (did Kurosawa see this film?) and a quirky choice of camera angles. Highly influential, Nosferatu paved the way for the highly stylised productions that flourished in Hollywood during the Thirties. --Noel O'Shea [2003]

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