Saturday at the Movies: Nosferatu 1922

During the  month of October, many of the articles I contributed to the 31 Days of Horror here at Biff Bam Pop! were about movies that just scare the crap outta me. There’s stuff like Trilogy of Terror, White Zombie and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, but this one… this one not only won’t I watch it again, but I get scared just thinking about it. Read my thoughts on the original silent Nosferatu after the jump.

The Stuff of Nightmare

Yeah, I own this film, the 1922 silent horror classic, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, but this is the first time I’ve watched the DVD – strictly for the purposes of writing this review. I’m not happy about it, and I did it in the middle of the day, in broad daylight, as far from night as possible. I still had nightmares.

I don’t know what it is about actor Max Schreck’s appearance as Count Orlok in Nosferatu that scares me, but it is specifically him that scares me. Similar make-up was done for the vampires featured in “‘Salem’s Lot,” the remake called Nosferatu the Vampyre, and Shadow of the Vampire, the film about the making of the original – and none of those visages have affected me thus.

For the record, Count Orlok only appears in less than ten minutes of the film. Now that is immortality. Ten minutes and an image burned into the skulls of horror movie fans for almost a century. I certainly will never forget it. I can’t even watch his shadow in this flick.

First Impressions

I first saw the movie way back in the seventies when I was a kid. The local PBS TV station made a regular practice of showing silent movies on weekends. You could probably say this was the beginning of my love of film. This was how I first saw Metropolis, The Gold Rush, Limelight, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the shorts of Harold Lloyd, and Nosferatu. I didn’t sleep for days after that last one. I kept thinking he was going to get me.

As you can see from that list you can tell I had an early fascination with German Expressionism. The Germans did it best back in that era, and Nosferatu is no exception. It’s shadowy simplicity and stark blacks and whites are as horrifying as the subject matter. It will leave a mark.

The Film

From the start the film was in trouble. F.W. Murnau, one of Germany’s greatest directors, wanted to make a Dracula movie, but he was denied the rights by Bram Stoker’s widow. Murnau was undeterred, like a lazy fourth grade creative writing student plagiarizing Star Wars, he merely changed some of the names and places – and made his Dracula anyway. This would come back to bite him on the ass. Florence Stoker’s winning lawsuits in 1924 and 1929 had almost all copies of the film destroyed.

Murnau made the movie in 1921 on location in many Eastern European sites that remain today, and many that don’t. This gives the flick, and the Dracula movie legend the specific vibe it still has today. Nothing like real castles and Slavic landscapes to give a realistic chill.

Maximum Terror

And then there was the cast, some of the best in German cinema. Alexander Granach, as the fly eating Knock, for instance, will always be my Renfield. Everyone in the cast however pales next to Max Schreck, who plays the vampire Graf Orlok. Even his name means ‘great terror’ in German.

Despite legends and the story presented in the aforementioned Shadow of the Vampire, Schreck was not one of the undead. He was a stage actor who Murnau found ugly enough to need little more than fangs and pointed ears to play his vampire. That’s not to say Schreck wasn’t a bit odd, and scary as hell as Orlok – but he wasn’t a vampire. He appeared in many other films until his death by heart attack in 1936.


To this day, more than nine decades later, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror remains one of the scariest films ever made, due mostly to the stiff and corpse-like, wild and wide-eyed, almost floating in the air performance of Max Schreck. He makes this grown man shiver.

While not complete, the longest print so far is a 94 minute one. Various soundtracks exist for it, including one by goth metal band Type O Negative. Frequently at Halloween the film is shown in theaters with live accompaniment.

And as much as I love those kinds of events, I’ll never go. Nope, not me. Graf Orlok might get me…

2 Replies to “Saturday at the Movies: Nosferatu 1922”

  1. I just saw this again and was lucky enough to experience it with a live score at the PhilaMOCA here in Philly. It was a great time!

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