Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)

Nosferatu is a German silent horror film from 1922, divided into 5 acts. The first act starts with an extract from the diary of Johan Cavallius, a historian.

From the diary of Johan Cavallius, able historian of his native city of Bremen:‘
Nosferatu! That name alone can chill the blood!
‘Nosferatu! Was it he who brought the plague to Bremen in 1838?
‘I have long sought the causes of that terrible epidemic, and found at its origin and its climax the innocent figures of Jonathon Harker and his young wife, Nina.’

This is an authoritative argument with which the filmmakers want to prove that the story really happened and to make the film more exciting. What also contributes to the suspense is the book about vampires that one of the main characters, real estate agent Harker, reads from. From that book we also get essential information about Nosferatu himself; many myths and legends are confirmed and debunked. The book confirms the well-known fact that vampires live at night and sleep in coffins during the day. It is then added that the coffins are filled with the same unholy soil in which the vampire was buried. Another well-known fact is that vampires have no shadows, but Nosferatu does have a shadow . There is a lot of play with light effects and shadows: Count Orlok appears from nowhere, his shadow attacks Nina, …

Nosferatu is one of the first horror films ever made. The film might not seem so scary right now. However, there are several scary elements present, like the ghost ship and castle to name a few. This film also brought about several fantasy movie cliches. Like the hunchback, the loyal sidekick of the evil mastermind, for example. It is already clear that there is more to the film than meets the eye. There is even a fairytale element in this German horror: when Harker escapes from the tower room where Nosferatu had locked him up to save his wife, he does this in true Rapunsel style by tying all sheets together and crawling out the window.

“Nosferatu, a Symphonie des Grauens” was made in 1922, by F.W. Murnau who then worked for UFA-Decla. Short for “Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft”, UFA is a government company founded to bring order to the widely spread out film industry. After the success of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, Decla was incorporated by UFA, and the company changed its name to UFA-Decla. This collaboration produced many films, including Nosferatu. Decla’s “Cabinet” alluded to the painting style of the time: expressionismus, which manifested itself in very abstract and stylised sets and acting performances. Nosferatu also belongs to German expressionism; where it focuses less on sets and settings (because the film largely takes place outside), but more on the stylised figures and the acting. This is a very exaggerated and portrayal style, and we can clearly speak of overacting here. Yet the characters appear very stately and even motionless. This is because overacting is mainly noticeable in the facial expressions of the actors, and hand movements are also exaggerated. Typical of this period are the black screens with statements and surrounding texts to make it easier to follow the film. At some point this technique is even used as cross-cutting. We switch from the castle at Harker and Nosferatu to a dreaming Nina. The text provides the transition here, as we move from one storyline to another. It is also very reminiscent of the comic strip, where you often have intertitles like that (meanwhile, while, …).

It is clear that “Nosferatu, a Symphonie des Grauens” has had a lot of influence on the film industry in general, but also on the horror genre, and especially vampire films specifically. A good example of this lasting influence is the 1994 film “Interview with the Vampire” by Neil Jordan. Louis (played by Brad Pitt) is a vampire who at one point is sitting in an old theater watching movies, and here they show a piece from Nosferatu.

Happy watching,

Loes M.

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