As you sit down to sometime this weekend to enjoy the great German Expressionist classic Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (just a hunch, but something tells me you will!), keep in mind that 2022 has a special significance: it’s the 100th anniversary of this milestone piece of cinema!
Its “birthday” of sorts is technically March 4, 1922, when the studio Prana-Film hosted its grand premiere at the Marmorsaal (“marble hall”) of the Berlin Zoological Garden. It was released in German theaters on March 15, and then slowly made its way around the Netherlands, France, Estonia, a few other European countries…and that’s about it, until it was finally released in the U.K. in 1928 and the U.S. in 1929.
While it didn’t officially enter the public domain until 2019, it’s been floating around pretty freely in the past 100 years–despite Bram Stoker’s widow attempting to have it destroyed, it being a blatant ripoff of Dracula and all (Prana-Film had optimistically decided that if you couldn’t get the rights to something, an obvious copy would do. Well, it didn’t). Nowadays its status is iconic, and Count Orlok is as recognizable as Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula. Clips from Nosferatu float freely on social media and have shown up in music videos. There are Nosferatu-like creatures in horror/fantasy video games. You can go on a “Nosferatour” of filming locations in Lübeck, Germany. There are costumes, action figures, statues, t-shirts…the list goes on. There’s also a remake from 1979 by Werner Herzog, and apparently Robert Eggers is starting work on his own version as I’m typing. (Honestly, Eggers might be the only modern director I’d trust with such a project.)
Unlike many silent films which are often unfairly dismissed, Nosferatu‘s age is part of its appeal. It’s not quite as jump-out-of-your-seat scary as more recent horror films, but it has a creepy Gothic atmosphere that’s held up well over time. In particular its design of a vampire as a pale, skinny, rat-like being with talon-like nails is a far cry from the suave seducers of today. Today the film seems far more in tune with ancient legends and is refreshingly free of modern clichés, showing a more primal vision of a bloodsucking monster.
There have been ongoing celebrations of the century-old horror film all year, especially in Germany, as Stummfilm Magazin has been chronicling. So today, here’s a few links to help you celebrate, too.
Silent-ology’s revisited Nosferatu several times over the years:
Thoughts on Nosferatu (1922)–One of my favorite essays I’ve done, might I add.
Happy Birthday, Nosferatu! (A.K.A. Max)–A brief piece on the life of Max Schreck, the eccentric actor who brought Count Orlok to life.
Thoughts on Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979).–My piece on Herzog’s remake, and one of my personal favorite films.
The Strange Saga of Nosferatu–Truth can be stranger than fiction, and the backstory of this iconic film is no exception.
Who Was Gustav von Wangenheim?–A look at the life and career of Nosferatu’s main actor, a well-known face with an obscure background.
And here’s a few eclectic links to explore:
“Great Movies: Nosferatu (1922)” by Roger Ebert–I enjoy reading this periodically, being an Ebert fan and all (he’s always a great inspiration for film writing!).
Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide–A very helpful and thorough roundup of trivia, articles and other interesting Nosferatu-themed links, compiled by Brenton Film. Worth a few visits!
“Nosferatu: The monster who still terrifies, 100 years on” by Nicholas Barber. I enjoyed this timely BBC article, which talks about the film’s legacy and impact on pop culture.
“The Fear of Death in Nosferatu – Eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)” by Heikki Rosenholm–A scholarly, in-depth article analyzing the themes of the film with plenty of references to Siegfried Kracauer and the Expressionist movement of the 1920s.
From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film by Siegfried Kracauer--Speaking of Siegfried, his seminal 1947 study of German Expressionist film–which he argued showed signs of the country’s eventual move to Nazism–makes for fascinating reading and debate today. You can also buy hard copies online, of course, but PDFs are nice for quick references.
So a belated Happy Birthday to this horror staple, and a Happy Centenary overall! I bet that its makers never dreamed that their odd, spooky film would survive to be celebrated well into the 21st century…for starters.
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Great article and some awesome links. I happily reposted and added the Eighth Tower Soundtrack I adore to my own post.
Even people who dismiss silent films tend to find NOSFERATU effective. My grandma (who tends to avoid silent movies) watched it on TV one night a few years back and she said it creeped her out big time.
I have a friend who likes watching films like the Saw series, and she’s said that Nosferatu is the one film that creeped her out the most!
Oh and I agree Eggers would be a good fit for a Nosferatu remake. I love his work– he knows how to craft suspense and horror without relying on cheesy cliches and jump scares.
He also has a great deal of respect for old stories and times gone by, and doesn’t try to shoehorn modern sensibilities into his films. Not many directors nowadays seem, well, capable of that.
I am no lover of scary movies, and the image of Nosferatu always seemed especially creepy to me. I enjoyed your write-up, though, especially the information about all of the Nosferatu-related celebrations and products.
Thanks, I appreciate you stopping by!
I love “Nosferatu”, it is the movie that showed me, that silent films are much more than only “old movies”, but I always thought that Murnau’s “Faust”-adaptation was even creepier.
Faust is an all-time silent favorite in my book. IMO, few things have a stronger creep factor than when Mephisto first shows up and his eyes glow in the dark–shudder.
I’ve probably said this to you before but the shadow sequence of Orlok ascending the stairs is my favourite scene in all of cinema!
Can definitely see why! 🙂
I think it is very scary. The first time I saw a photo of Nosferatu the vampire it gave me a spooky dream. Took me awhile to pluck up the courage to watch it lol. Then a few years later I found out some youngsters were going to show it at a local community centre with live music! Of course, I had to go. The centre is Victorian with the old wooden seats so it really added to the viewing experience. The musicians just played ad lib, and they really enhanced the atmosphere. It really is better watching it like that than on YouTube, but of course we can be grateful that it has survived and can be viewed this way. I agree, that Nosferatu is far more authentic to vampire legends than all these modern vampire TV shows we have had in the last 20 years. The legends told us that vampires were ugly nasty creatures. They were not handsome young men/ young beautiful women!
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