Thomas Hutter (Jonathan Harker in Stoker’s novel) lives in the fictitious German city of Wisborg. His employer, Knock, sends Hutter to Transylvania to visit a new client named Orlok. Hutter entrusts his loving wife Ellen to his good friend Harding and Harding’s sister Ruth, before embarking on his long journey.
Nearing his destination, Hutter stays at an inn, where the locals become frightened by his mere mention of Orlok’s name and discourage him from traveling to his castle at night. In his room, Hutter finds a book, The Book of the Vampires, which he peruses before falling asleep.
He wakes up to an empty castle and notices fresh punctures on his neck, which he attributes to mosquitoes. That night, Orlok signs the documents to purchase the house across from Hutter’s own home. Orlok sees Hutter’s miniature portrait of his wife and admires her beautiful neck. Reexamining The Book of the Vampires, Hutter starts to suspect that Orlok is Nosferatu, the “Bird of Death”. He cowers in his room as midnight approaches, but there is no way to bar the door. The door opens by itself and Orlok enters, his true nature finally revealed. At the same time, Ellen sleepwalks and screams for Hutter. She is somehow heard by Orlok, who leaves Hutter untouched.
The next day, Hutter explores the castle. In its crypt, he finds the coffin in which Orlok is resting dormant. Horrified, he dashes back to his room. From the window, he sees Orlok piling up coffins on a coach and climbing into the last one before the coach departs. Hutter escapes the castle through the window, but falls unconscious when he reaches the ground. He is taken to a hospital. When he is sufficiently recovered, Hutter hurries home.
Meanwhile, the coffins are shipped down river on a raft. They are transferred to a schooner, but not before one is opened by the crew. Inside, they find soil and rats.
Under the long-distance influence of Orlok, Knock starts behaving oddly and is confined to a psychiatric ward. Later, Knock steals a newspaper, which tells of an outbreak of an unknown plague spreading down the coast of the Black Sea. Many people are dying, with odd marks on their necks. Knock rejoices.
The sailors on the ship get sick one by one; soon all but the captain and first mate are dead. Suspecting the truth, the first mate goes below to destroy the coffins. However, Orlok awakens and the horrified sailor jumps into the sea. Unaware of his danger, the captain becomes Orlok’s latest victim.
When the ship arrives in Wisborg, Orlok leaves unobserved, carrying one of his coffins. (A passage in The Book of the Vampires reveals that the source of a vampire’s power is the soil in which he was buried.) He moves into the house he purchased. The next morning, when the ship is inspected, the captain is found dead. After examining the logbook, the doctors assume they are dealing with the plague. The town is stricken with panic.
There are many deaths in the town. The residents chase Knock, who has escaped after murdering the warden, mistaking him for a vampire.
Orlok stares from his window at the sleeping Ellen. She opens her window to invite him in, but faints. When Hutter revives her, she sends him to fetch Professor Bulwer. After he leaves, Orlok comes in. He becomes so engrossed drinking her blood, he forgets about the coming day. A rooster crows and Orlok vanishes in a bit of smoke as he tries to flee. Ellen lives just long enough to be embraced by her grief-stricken husband. The last image of the movie is of Orlok’s ruined castle in the Carpathian Mountains.
These days it seems like vampires are anything but scary. Well, in case you’ve forgotten what vampires should be, check out the original cinematic vampire in all his black & white, silent film goodness in 1922′s Nosferatu.
Yes, I said silent. This is a silent film, a fact that I actually didn’t know until I started watching. Nothing wrong with that, just a fact that I didn’t know.
The good…back in the old days, actors had to actually be able to act, even more so if you go back to these silent films. While it was a bit over the top at times, the raw emotion is more believable than anything that has come along since. Max Shreck makes a terrifying vampire, especially when you consider that not a drop of blood is shed and he’s more of an intimidating presence rather than a gory, murderous, figure. The story does a good job of moving along at a decent pace and not stalling and/or dragging along.
The bad…there isn’t much on the negative side, but the thing that sticks out the most for me was the music. On its own, the orchestrations are gorgeous. If you close your eyes, it’s just like you are at a concert, but when added with the film, it just doesn’t seem to fit or set the mood. Now, since I wasn’t around in the 20s, I don’t know if this little critique is just a matter of different times. If that is the case, then I retract the statement, otherwise, I stand by my opinion.
As a fan of the classics, I maintain the position that these films are infinitely better than anything that is out there today. Back in those days actors actually knew how to act and films weren’t made around special effects. I know that there are those out there that think flicks without effects or, in this case, dialogue, are a total bore. That is not the case with Nosferatu, though. If you’re a fan of vampires, vampire lore, or vampire films, you need to watch this, if for nothing else than to see the patriarch of all media vampires from Bela Lugosi and Gary Oldman as Dracula to Wesley Snipe as Blade down to the vampires in True Blood, Vampire Diaries, and yes, even the Cullens from the Twilight movies. Without the success and longevity of this picture, though, who knows if these would have even been created, let alone attain the level of popularity vampires seem to be currently riding.
4 out of 5 stars