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"Nosferatu the Vampire" redirects here. For the 1979 film, see Nosferatu the Vampyre. For other uses, see Nosferatu (disambiguation).
eine Symphonie des Grauens
Directed by F. W. Murnau
Produced by
Screenplay by Henrik Galeen
Based on Dracula 
by Bram Stoker
Music by Hans Erdmann
Distributed by Film Arts Guild
Release dates
  • 4 March 1922 (1922-03-04) (Germany)
Running time
94 minutes
Country Weimar Republic

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (translated as Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror; or simply Nosferatu) is a 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"). Stoker's heirs sued over the adaptation, and a court ruling ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed. However, a few prints of Nosferatu survived, and the film came to be regarded as an influential masterpiece of cinema.[1][2] As of 2015, it is Rotten Tomatoes' second best-reviewed horror film of all time.[3]


Thomas Hutter lives in the fictitious German city of Wisborg. His employer, Knock, sends Hutter to Transylvania to visit a new client named Count Orlok. Hutter entrusts his loving wife Ellen to his good friend Harding and Harding's sister Annie, 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 black-swathed coach appears after Hutter crosses the bridge and the coachman gestures for him to climb aboard. Hutter is welcomed at a castle by Count Orlok. When Hutter is eating dinner and accidentally cuts his thumb, Orlok tries to suck the blood out, but his repulsed guest pulls his hand away.

Hutter wakes up to a deserted castle the morning after and notices fresh punctures on his neck, which he attributes to mosquitoes in his letter to his wife which he hands over to a courier on horseback to be delivered to his devoted wife. That night, Orlok signs the documents to purchase the house across from Hutter's own home and notices a photo of the Hutter's wife remarking that she has a lovely neck. Reading 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 hides under the bedcovers and falls unconscious. At the same time this is happening, the wife awakens from her sleep and in a trance walks towards the balcony and onto the railing. Alarmed, Harding shouts Ellen's name and she faints while he asks for a doctor. After the doctor arrives, she shouts Hutter's name remaining in the trance and apparently able to see Orlok in his castle threatening her unconscious husband. The doctor believes this trance-like state is due to "blood congestion". The next day, Hutter explores the castle. In its crypt, he finds the coffin in which Orlok is resting dormant. Hutter becomes horrified and dashes back to his room. Hours later 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 and awakes in a hospital.

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

When he is sufficiently recovered, he 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, revealing a multitude of rats. 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, which are blamed on the plague. Knock, who had been committed to a psychiatric ward, escapes after murdering the warden. The townspeople give chase, but 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. After he leaves, Orlok comes in. He becomes so engrossed drinking her blood that he forgets about the coming day. When a rooster crows, Orlok vanishes in a puff of smoke as he tries to flee. Ellen lives just long enough to be embraced by her grief-stricken husband. The last scene shows Count Orlok's ruined castle in the Carpathian Mountains, symbolizing the end of Count Orlok's reign of terror.


Schreck in a promotional still for the film


Prana-Film 1.jpg

The studio behind Nosferatu, Prana Film, was a short-lived silent-era German film studio founded in 1921 by Enrico Dieckmann and occultist and artist Albin Grau, named for the Buddhist concept of prana. Its intent was to produce occult and supernatural themed films. Nosferatu was the only production of Prana Film[4] as it declared bankruptcy in order to dodge copyright infringement suits from Bram Stoker's widow.

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.[5]

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

Diekmann and Grau gave Henrik Galeen, a disciple of Hanns Heinz Ewers 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[6] 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").[7]

Filming began in July 1921, with exterior shots in Wismar. 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 bore 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, Rostock and on Sylt. The exteriors of the film set in Transylvania were actually shot on location in northern Slovakia, including the High Tatras, Vrátna Valley, Orava Castle, the Váh River, and Starhrad.[8] The team filmed interior shots at the JOFA studio in Berlin's Johannisthal locality and further exteriors in the Tegel Forest.

The Salzspeicher in Lübeck served as the set for Orlok's house in Wisborg.

For cost reasons, cameraman Fritz Arno Wagner only had one camera available, and therefore there was only one original negative.[9] The director followed Galeen's screenplay carefully, following handwritten instructions on camera positioning, lighting, and related matters.[10] Nevertheless, Murnau completely rewrote 12 pages of the script, as Galeen's text was missing from the director's working script. This concerned the last scene of the film, in which Ellen sacrifices herself and the vampire dies in the first rays of the Sun.[11][12] 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.[13]


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 remains is only a reconstitution of the score as it was played in 1922.[14] 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 1950s and 1960s, has written a score for a reissue.[15]

Deviations from the novel[edit]

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 countries, the written dialogue 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.[16]


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.[17] Nosferatu's preview premiered on 4 March 1922 in the Marmorsaal of the Berlin Zoological Garden. 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. The cinema premiere itself took place on 15 March 1922 at Berlin's Primus-Palast.

Reception and legacy[edit]

Nosferatu brought the director Murnau reinforced into the public eye, especially since his film Der brennende Acker (The Burning Soil) was released a few days later. The press reported extensively on Nosferatu and its premiere. With the laudatory votes, there was also occasional criticism that the technical perfection and clarity of the images did not fit the horror theme. The Filmkurier of 6 March 1922 said that the vampire appeared too corporeal and brightly lit to appear genuinely scary. Hans Wollenberg described the film in photo-Stage No. 11 of 11 March 1922 as a "sensation" and praised Murnau's nature shots as "mood-creating elements."[18] In the Vossische newspaper of 7 March 1922, Nosferatu was praised for its visual style.

This was the only Prana Film; the company declared bankruptcy after 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, kept alive by a cult following, making it an example of an early cult film.[19]

The movie has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a "Certified Fresh" label and holds a 97% "fresh" rating based on 60 reviews.[20] It was ranked twenty-first in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010.[21] In 1997, critic Roger Ebert added Nosferatu to his list of The Great Movies, writing:

Here is the story of Dracula before it was buried alive in clichés, jokes, TV skits, cartoons and more than 30 other films. The film is in awe of its material. It seems to really believe in vampires.[...]

Is Murnau's "Nosferatu" scary in the modern sense? Not for me. I admire it more for its artistry and ideas, its atmosphere and images, than for its ability to manipulate my emotions like a skillful modern horror film. It knows none of the later tricks of the trade, like sudden threats that pop in from the side of the screen. But "Nosferatu" remains effective: It doesn’t scare us, but it haunts us.[22]

In popular culture[edit]

The 1977 song "Nosferatu" from the album Spectres by American rock band Blue Öyster Cult is directly about the film.[23]

In 1979, Werner Herzog's tribute film Nosferatu the Vampyre starred Klaus Kinski (as Count Dracula, not Orlok).[24]

In 1989, French progressive rock outfit Art Zoyd released Nosferatu on Mantra Records. Thierry Zaboitzeff and Gérard Hourbette composed the pieces, to correspond with a truncated version of the film then heavily in circulation in the public domain.[25]

In the 1994 movie, Interview With The Vampire, Brad Pitt's character Louis de Pointe du Lac, goes to a cinema presumably in 1922 (the year of Nosferatu's release), and watches Nosferatu (almost in parody of the vampire culture he has become part of, and Count Orlok's death scene is shown.

In 1995, Bernard J. Taylor adapted the story into the musical Nosferatu the Vampire starring Peter Karrie as "Nosferatu", Claire Moore as "Mina", Barry James as "Renfield", Mario Frangoulis as "Jonathan", Mark Wynter as "Van Helsing" and Simon Burke as "The Innkeeper".

The 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire, directed by E. Elias Merhige and written by Steven A. Katz, is a fictionalized account of the making of Nosferatu. It stars John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe.[26]

In 2000, Count Orlok appeared in a brief cameo in children's animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants.[27] The episode, "Graveyard Shift", was written by Jay Lender, who pushed for a random gag that featured Orlok.[28]

An opera version composed by Alva Henderson in 2004, with libretto by Dana Gioia,[29] was released on CD in 2005, with Douglas Nagel as "Count Orlok/Nosferatu", Susan Gundunas as "Ellen Cutter" (Ellen Hutter/Lucy Harker), Robert McPherson as "Eric Cutter" (Thomas Hutter/Jonathan Harker) and Dennis Rupp as "Skuller" (Knock/Renfield).

In 2009, Louis Pecsi wrote and illustrated the graphic novel Nosferatu: The Untold Origin, which gives an origin story to Count Orlok.[30]

In 2010, the Mallarme Chamber Players of Durham, North Carolina, commissioned composer Eric J. Schwartz to compose an experimental chamber music score for live performance alongside screenings of the film, which has since been performed a number of times.[31]

In 2012, scenes from the film were used in the exhibition Dark Romanticism at the Städel in Frankfurt as an example to illustrate the way in which ideas developed in 18th- and 19th-century art influenced story telling and aesthetics in 20th-century cinema.[32]

On October 28, 2012 as part of the BBC Radio "Gothic Imagination" series, the film was reimagined on BBC Radio 3 as the radio play Midnight Cry of the Deathbird by Amanda Dalton directed by Susan Roberts, with Malcolm Raeburn playing the role of "Graf Orlok (Count Dracula)", Sophie Woolley as "Ellen Hutter", Henry Devas as "Thomas Hutter" and Terence Mann as "Knock".[33]


On July 29, 2015, it was reported that a remake of the film would be written and directed by The Witch director Robert Eggers and produced by Jay Van Hoy and Lars Knudsen.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Elsaesser, Thomas (February 2001). "Six Degrees Of Nosferatu". Sight and Sound. ISSN 0037-4806. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  5. ^ Christiane Mückenberger; Günther Dahlke; Günter Karl (Hrsg.) (1993), "Nosferatu", Deutsche Spielfilme von den Anfängen bis 1933 (in German), Berlin: Henschel Verlag, p. 71, ISBN 3-89487-009-5 
  6. ^ Roger Manvell, Henrik Galeen - Films as writer:, Other films:, Film Reference, retrieved 23 April 2009 
  7. ^ Eisner 1967, page 27
  8. ^ Votruba, Martin. "Nosferatu (1922) Slovak Locations". Slovak Studies Program. University of Pittsburgh. 
  9. ^ 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 maximize the number of copies for distribution. One negative would serve for local use and another for foreign distribution.
  10. ^ Eisner 1967 page 27
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Michael Koller (July 2000), "Nosferatu", Issue 8, July–Aug 2000 (senses of cinema), retrieved 23 April 2009 
  13. ^ Grafe page 117
  14. ^ Anderson, Gillian. "Nosferatu". Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  15. ^ Randall D. Larson (1996). "An Interview with James Bernard" Soundtrack Magazine. Vol 15, No 58, cited in Randall D. Larson (2008). "James Bernard’s Nosferatu". Retrieved on 31 October 2015.
  16. ^ Ashbury, Roy (5 November 2001), Nosferatu (1st ed.), Pearson Education, p. 41 
  17. ^ Eisner page 60
  18. ^ Hans Helmut Prinzler (ed.): Murnau – Ein Melancholiker des Films. Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek. Bertz, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-929470-25-X, p. 129.
  19. ^ Hall, Phil. "THE BOOTLEG FILES: "NOSFERATU"". Film Threat. Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  20. ^ "Nosferatu movie reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  21. ^ "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema: 21 Nosferatu". Empire. 
  22. ^ Ebert, Roger (28 September 1997). "Nosferatu Movie Review & Film Summary (1922)". Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  23. ^ "17 Fear-Filled Songs Inspired by Scary Movies". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  24. ^ Erickson, Hal. "Nosferatu the Vampyre". Allrovi. Retrieved 6 September 2011. 
  25. ^ Kozinn, Alan (23 July 1991). "Music in Review". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 May 2014. 
  26. ^ Scott, A. O. (29 December 2000). "FILM REVIEW; Son of 'Nosferatu,' With a Real-Life Monster". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  27. ^ Hallam, Scott (3 June 2014). "Top 5 Foreign Vampire Films". Dread Central. Retrieved 25 December 2014. 
  28. ^ Heintjes, Tom (21 September 2012). "The Oral History of SpongeBob SquarePants". Retrieved 25 December 2014. 
  29. ^
  30. ^ Roncace, Kelly (20 October 2011). "Rowan graduate gives vampire, 'Nosferatu,' a beginning". South Jersey Times. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  31. ^ "Pfeiffer presents classic 'Nosferatu'". The Stanly News and Press. 24 October 2012. Retrieved 30 May 2014. 
  32. ^ "Den Schrecken zum Leben erwecken – Schwarze Romantik im Horrorfilm". (in German). 15 November 2012. Retrieved 31 October 2012. 
  33. ^
  34. ^ "NOSFERATU Remake in the Works with THE WITCH Director Robert Eggers". 29 July 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 


  • Lotte H. Eisner; Hilmar Hoffmann; Walter Schobert (1980), Die dämonische Leinwand (in German), Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, ISBN 3-596-23660-6 
  • Lotte H. Eisner (1967), Murnau. Der Klassiker des deutschen Films (in German), Velber/Hannover: Friedrich Verlag 
  • Frieda Grafe; Enno Patalas (2003), Licht aus Berlin. Lang Lubitsch Murnau (in German), Berlin: Verlag Brinkmann & Bose, ISBN 3-922660-81-9, ISBN 9783922660811 
  • Karin Meßlinger; Vera Thomas (2003), "Nosferatu", in Hans Helmut Prinzler, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau : ein Melancholiker des Films (in German), Berlin: Bertz Verlag GbR, ISBN 3-929470-25-X 
  • Brill, Olaf, Film Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (GER 1922) (in German), retrieved 11 June 2009  (1921-1922 reports and reviews)

External links[edit]