Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens
A promotional film poster
Directed by F. W. Murnau
Produced by Enrico Dieckmann
Albin Grau
Screenplay by Henrik Galeen
Based on Dracula by Bram Stoker
Starring Max Schreck
Gustav von Wangenheim
Greta Schröder
Alexander Granach
Ruth Landshoff
Wolfgang Heinz
Music by Hans Erdmann
Cinematography Fritz Arno Wagner
Günther Krampf
Distributed by Film Arts Guild
Release date(s) March 4, 1922 (1922-03-04) (Germany)
Running time 84 minutes
Country Germany
Language Silent film
German intertitles

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (translated as Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror; also known as Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror or simply Nosferatu) is a classic 1922 German Expressionist horror film, directed by F. W. Murnau, starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok. The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain the rights to the novel (for instance, "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok").


Thomas Hutter (Jonathan Harker in Stoker's novel) lives in the fictitious German city of Wisborg. His employer, Knock (Stoker's Renfield), sends Hutter to Transylvania to visit a new client named Count Orlok (Stoker's Count Dracula). Hutter entrusts his loving wife Ellen (Stoker's Mina Harker) to his good friend Harding (Stoker's Arthur Holmwood) and Harding's sister Annie (Stoker's Lucy Westenra), before embarking on his long journey.

Nearing his destination in the Carpathian mountains, Hutter stops at an inn for dinner. The locals become frightened by the mere mention of Orlok's name and discourage him from traveling to his castle at night, warning of a werewolf on the prowl.

The next morning, Hutter takes a coach to a high mountain pass, but the coachmen decline to take him any further than the bridge as nightfall is approaching. A sinister black-swathed coach of an archaic design suddenly appears after Hutter crosses the bridge and the coachman gestures for him to climb aboard. Past midnight, Hutter is welcomed at the castle by Count Orlok himself. When Hutter is eating dinner and accidentally cuts his thumb, Orlok tries to suck the blood out of the wound, but his repulsed guest pulls his hand away.

The next morning, Hutter wakes up to a castle with nobody in it 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. Hutter writes a letter to his wife and gets a coachman to send it away. Examining a book about vampires that he took from the local inn, 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, and Hutter falls unconscious.

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 is knocked unconscious by the fall. He awakes in a hospital and when he is sufficiently recovered, he hurries home.


An iconic scene of the shadow of Nosferatu (Count Orlok) climbing up a staircase

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. 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 he ties himself to the wheel.

When the ship arrives in Wisborg, Orlok leaves unobserved, carrying one of his coffins, and 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, and people are warned to stay inside. There are many deaths in the town and the fearful residents chase Knock, who had been committed to a psychiatric ward but escaped after murdering the warden. He eludes them by climbing a roof, then using a scarecrow.

Meanwhile, Orlok stares from his window at the sleeping Ellen. Against her husband's wishes, Ellen had read the book he found. The book claims that the way to defeat a vampire is for a woman who is pure in heart to distract the vampire with her beauty all through the night. She opens her window to invite him in, but faints. When Hutter revives her, she sends him to fetch Professor Bulwer (Stoker's Abraham Van Helsing). After he leaves, Orlok comes in. He becomes so engrossed drinking her blood that he forgets about the coming day. A rooster crows and Orlok senses danger. Knock, meanwhile, has been bound in his cell and tries to warn the 'Master'. Orlok tries to leave the room, but vanishes in a puff of smoke as he tries to flee. Ellen lives just long enough to be embraced by her grief-stricken husband.



Max Schreck as Count Orlok in a promotional photo

Origin and publication historyEdit

Screenplay and pre-productionEdit

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J0710-0303-004, Wismar, Heiliggeistkirche

Hutter's departure from Wisborg was filmed in Heiligen-Geist-Kirche's yard in Wismar; this photograph is from 1970.

Nosferatu was the first and only production of Prana Film,[1] founded in 1921 by Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau. Grau had the idea to shoot a vampire film; the inspiration arose from Grau's war experience: in the winter of 1916, a Serbian farmer told him that his father was a vampire and one of the Undead.[2]

Diekmann and Grau gave Henrik Galeen the task to write a screenplay inspired from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, despite Prana Film not having obtained the film rights. Galeen was an experienced specialist in Dark romanticism; he had already worked on Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague) in 1913, and the screenplay for Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World) (1920). Galeen set the story in a fictional north German harbour town named Wisborg and changed the character names. He added the idea of the vampire bringing the plague to Wisborg via rats on the ship. He left out the Van Helsing vampire hunter character. Galeen's Expressionist style[3] screenplay was poetically rhythmic, without being so dismembered as other books influenced by literary Expressionism, such as those by Carl Mayer. Lotte Eisner described Galeen's screenplay as "voll Poesie, voll Rhythmus" ("full of poetry, full of rhythm").[4]


Lübeck-Salzspeicher an der Trave

This Lübecker Salzspeicher served as the set for Orlok's house in Wisborg.

Filming began in July 1921, with exterior shots in Wismar.[5] A take from Marienkirche's tower over Wismar marketplace with the Wasserkunst Wismar served as the establishing shot for the Wisborg scene. Other locations were the Wassertor, the Heiligen-Geist-Kirche yard and the harbour. In Lübeck, the abandoned Salzspeicher served as Nosferatu's new Wisborg house, the one of the churchyard from Aegidienkirche served as Hutters and down the Depenau coffin bearers beared coffins. Many walks of Lübeck took place in the hunt of Knock who ordered Hutter in the Yard of Füchting to meet the earl. Further exterior shots followed in Lauenburg,[5] Rostock[5] and on Sylt. The film team travelled to the Carpathian Mountains, where Orava Castle[5] served as backdrop for Orlok's half-ruined castle. Nearby locations also served: Hutter's stay at Dolný Kubín;[5] the river journey with the coffins filmed on the Váh River; and the panoramas of the High Tatras mountain range. The team filmed interior shots at the JOFA studio in Berlin's Johannisthal locality.[5] and further exteriors in the Tegel forest.[5] Parts of the film set in Transylvania were also shot in Slovakia.

For cost reasons, cameraman Fritz Arno Wagner only had one camera available, and therefore there was only one original negative.[6] The director followed Galeen's screenplay carefully, following handwritten instructions on camera positioning, lighting, and related matters.[7] Nevertheless Murnau completely rewrote 12 pages of the script, as Galeen's text was missing from the director's working script.[8] This concerned the last scene of the film, in which Ellen sacrifices herself and the vampire dies in the first rays of the Sun.[9][10] Murnau prepared carefully; there were sketches that were to correspond exactly to each filmed scene, and he used a metronome to control the pace of the acting.[11]

Premiere and theatre distributionEdit

Zoologischer Garten Berlin - Marmorsaal im Zoo

The Marmorsaal (marble hall) in the Berlin Zoological Garden, here shown in a 1900 postcard, was where Nosferatu premiered.

Shortly before the premiere, an advertisement campaign was placed in issue 21 of the magazine Bühne und Film, with a summary, scene and work photographs, production reports and essays including a treatment on vampirism by Albin Grau.[12] Nosferatu's preview premiered on 4 March 1922 in the Marmorsaal of the Berlin Zoological Garden.[5][8] This was planned as a large society evening entitled Das Fest des Nosferatu (Festival of Nosferatu), and guests were asked to arrive dressed in Biedermeier costume.[8] The cinema premiere itself took place on 15 March 1922 at Berlin's Primus-Palast.[5]

Contemporary critiqueEdit

The premiere reviewers generally praised the film, with some occasionally complaining that the technically perfect and brightly-lit images detracted from the unworldly horror theme.[13] Der Film, a Berlin film magazine, praised the technical quality and the believability of Schreck's portrayal of the vampire, but also felt that his form would have had a greater effect had it been shown more in silhouette.[14]

Deviations from the novelEdit

The story of Nosferatu is similar to that of Dracula and retains the core characters—Jonathan and Mina Harker, the Count, etc.—but omits many of the secondary players, such as Arthur and Quincey, and changes all of the characters' names (although in some recent releases of this film, which is now in the public domain in the United States but not in most European states, the written dialog screens have been changed to use the Dracula versions of the names). The setting has been transferred from Britain in the 1890s to Germany in 1838.

In contrast to Dracula, Orlok does not create other vampires, but kills his victims, causing the townfolk to blame the plague, which ravages the city. Also, Orlok must sleep by day, as sunlight would kill him, while the original Dracula is only weakened by sunlight. The ending is also substantially different from that of Dracula. The count is ultimately destroyed at sunrise when the "Mina" character sacrifices herself to him. The town called "Wisborg" in the film is in fact a mix of Wismar and Lübeck.[15]

The musicEdit

The original score was composed by Hans Erdmann to be performed by an orchestra during the projection. However, most of the score has been lost, and what we can hear nowadays is only a reconstitution of the score as it was played in 1922.[16][17] This is why so many composers and musicians have written or improvised their own soundtrack to accompany the film. For example, James Bernard, composer of the soundtracks of many Hammer horror films in the late 50s and all the 60s decade, including the Dracula and Frankenstein series, has written a score for a reissue of Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror.[18]

In 2006, the French composer Alexis Savelief finished the composition of his score for Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror. His soundtrack is intended to be performed during the film by a cello octet, three synthesizers and two percussionists.[19] Despite the constraints imposed by the cine-concert format, the score is perfectly synchronized throughout the whole film, by means of a variable click-track. Performed in first audition by the Cello Octet of Beauvais and the 2e2m ensemble directed by Pierre Roullier, the following year Alexis Savelief has arranged his score for eight strings, three synthesizers and two percussionists. This version has been presented in first audition under the direction of conductor Jean-Louis Forestier.

On Halloween of 2009, the American film scoring ensemble The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra premiered its new score for Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror as part of Vanderbilt University's International Lens film series. The score is synchronized with the film, and is written for Wurlitzer electric piano, theremin, vibraphone, electric guitar, two violins, viola, trombone, trumpet and one percussionist.


This was the first and last Prana Film; the company declared bankruptcy after Bram Stoker's estate, acting for his widow, Florence Stoker, sued for copyright infringement and won. The court ordered all existing prints of Nosferatu burned, but one purported copy of the film had already been distributed around the world. These prints were duplicated over the years.[20]

The movie has received not only a strong cult following, but also has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. On it received a "Certified Fresh" label and holds a 98% "fresh" rating based on 46 reviews. It was ranked twenty-first in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010.[21]

Derivative worksEdit

Aaron Copland's 1922 ballet Grohg (unpublished and unpremiered until 1992) used Nosferatu as the physical model for the lead character and roughly follows the storyline.

Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers and Robert Williams recorded an album Nosferatu as a "soundtrack" to the film, dedicated to the memory of Max Schreck; it was released in 1979. The front cover was a still from the film.

Werner Herzog's 1979 homage to Nosferatu, Nosferatu the Vampyre starred Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula, not Orlok.[22] A sequel to Herzog's film called Vampire in Venice starred Kinski, this time as Nosferatu, and Christopher Plummer as Paris Catalano. The 1979 television movie Salem's Lot modeled the appearance of Mr. Barlow on that of Count Orlok.[23] In 1998, Wayne Keeley wrote and directed Nosferatu: The First Vampire, in which the original film was remastered to a soundtrack by Type O Negative and hosted by David Carradine. The 2000 Hollywood movie Shadow of the Vampire told a secret history of the making of Nosferatu, imagining that actor Max Schreck (played by Willem Dafoe) was actually a genuine vampire and that director F. W. Murnau (John Malkovich) was complicit in hiring the creature for the purpose of realism.

Viper Comics's 2010 graphic novel Nosferatu by Christopher Howard Wolf retold the original 1922 film's storyline with a modern setting and cast.

Film RatingEdit

The film is rated M  in New Zealand contains violence and it is rated PGR for New Zealand television.

See alsoEdit


  1. ChiaroScuro quoting Thomas Elsaesser
  2. Christiane Mückenberger; Günther Dahlke; Günter Karl (Hrsg.) (1993), "Nosferatu" (in German), Deutsche Spielfilme von den Anfängen bis 1933, Berlin: Henschel Verlag, p. 71, ISBN 3-89487-009-5 
  3. Roger Manvell, Henrik Galeen - Films as writer:, Other films:, Film Reference,, retrieved 2009-04-23 
  4. Eisner 1967, page 27
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 ChiaroScuro
  6. Prinzler page 222: Luciano Berriatúa and Camille Blot in section: Zur Überlieferung der Filme. Then it was usual to use at least two cameras in parallel to maximise the number of copies for distribution. One negative would serve for local use and another for foreign distribution.
  7. Editors of German Wikipedia citing Eisner 1967 page 27
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Editors of German Wikipedia
  9. Editors of German Wikipedia citing Eisner 1967 page 28 Since vampires dying in daylight appears neither in Stoker's work nor in Galeen's script, this concept has been solely attributed to Murnau.
  10. Michael Koller (July 2000), "Nosferatu", Issue 8, July–Aug 2000 (senses of cinema),, retrieved 2009-04-23 
  11. Editors of German Wikipedia citing Grafe page 117
  12. Editors of German Wikipedia citing Eisner page 60
  13. Prinzler p. 131. Bilder ... sehr schön, sehr klar, sehr scharf. Jedoch: Was bei anderen, wirklichkeitstreuen Filmen ein Vorteil ist, muß bei einem Werk aus der Unwirklichkeit gegenteilig bewertet werden.
  14. (Berlin) vol. 7, no. 11, 12 March 1922, p. 45
  15. Ashbury, Roy (2001-11-05), Nosferatu (1st ed.), Pearson Education, p. 41 
  17. ChiaroScuro
  21. "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema". Empire. 
  22. Erickson, Hal. "Nosferatu the Vampyr". Allrovi. Retrieved September 6, 2011. 
  23. Cinefantastique magazine vol. 9 #2


External linksEdit