Symphony of Horror Eine Symphonie des Grouen

Murnau, Germany, 1922

Production Details

Production company/studio Prana-Film

Producers Director

Cinematographers Editor

Screenwriter Art director

Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau F. W. Murnau

Gunther Krampf and Fritz Arno Wagner F. W. Murnau Henrik Galeen Albin Grau

Cast Includes

Max Schreck Gustav Botz John Gottowt Ruth Landshoff Max Nemetz Georg H. Schnell Greta Schröder Hardy von Francois Gustav von Wangenheim

(NB in recent video releases names have been 'Stokerised')

Count Orlok (Nosferatu)

Dr Sievers

Professor Bulwer

Lucy Westrenka



Ellen Hutter

Doctor in the Hospital

Thomas Hutter

FOCUS: Genre and the Influence of Art Cinema

Nosferatu begins in Bremen, Germany, in 1838. Knock, a property agent, assigns his employee Hutter to visit the remote castle of

Count Orlok. The mysterious Count wants to buy a house ('a deserted one')- The viewer will not be surprised to learn that Nosferatu was originally titled 'Dracula'. Bram Stoker's estate -suspicious of moving pictures - sued. All prints and even the original negative were ordered to be destroyed under the terms of a lawsuit by Stoker's widow. However the film - like the Count -surfaced in other countries in subsequent years and spawned many, many copies.

For the first third of the film the audience experiences very little that is remarkable in silent cinema; even the fluid camera style was typical of the time. However, as Hutter travels to Orlok's ancestral lands in the Carpathian Mountains (he continues to doubt superstitious warnings), the film begins to take on a sense of sensuality and deep unease. The scene in which the Count appears and leads Hutter into the shadows is an unforgettable moment of real cinematic menace. In the following scene Hutter cuts himself with a bread knife. The tension mounts as the knife lays in Hutter's palm under the searing gaze of the Nosferatu. The Count is thrilled by: 'Blood - your beautiful blood!' The Count is also visibly filled with lust for the young man's wife. He traps his visitor and begins his pursuit of Ellen.

This earliest vampire film contains many strikingly imaginative cinematic moments. At the inn, all of the customers fall silent when Hutter mentions Orlok's name. Outside, a snarling hyena appears. Hutter's hired coach refuses to take him onto Orlok's estate. The Count sends his own coach, which travels in fast motion, as does his scurrying ratlike servant. The production's special effects are disquieting. The speeding-up and slowing-down of motion (by varying the frames shot per second) and appearances and disappearances into and out of thin air are all techniques available to even the early pioneers. But they never used them to create shock or terror. Murnau also pioneered the use of a photographic negative image to produce white trees against a black sky.

Nosferatu was written by Henrik Galeen, a stalwart of the German cinema before and after the First World War. He had directed possibly the first Gothic horror movie, Golem, in 1915. The strategies, which may now be seen as clichés, were in 1922 writing the rulebook of the horror genre. As Rogert Ebert - the doyen of modern-day critics - puts it: 'To watch F. W. Murnau's 'Nosferatu' is to see the vampire movie before it had really seen itself. 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.'

In the decades that have passed, many legends have grown around the film. The strangest is that Maz Schreck (the name means 'terror' in German) was not only a real vampire but the actual 'Nosferatu'. This story has recently been retold in Shadow of the Vampire (Merhige, USA, 2001).

The scenes on the ship carrying Orlok's coffins remain shocking today. As the crew become sick and die, one brave sailor opens a coffin to reveal a river of rats. The Count rises straight up, stiff and eerie, from one of the coffins.

Schreck plays the Count like a sad, doomed and diseased animal. Albin Grau, the art director, gave him batlike ears, claws and pointed fangs that are in the middle of his mouth like a rodent's. The film has had a profound influence on the more horrific and erotic of the remakes - e.g. Klaus Kinski's performance in Nosferatu Phantom der Nachte (Nosferatu Phantom of the Night) (Herzog, Germany, 1979) and the art direction in Bram Stoker's Dracula (Coppola, USA, 1992).

The film contains montage sequences - which have been falsely claimed as technical breakthroughs (see chapter 1), but which are powerful examples of editing as a storytelling device - for example, as Orlok advances on Hutter, in Bremen, Hutter's wife, Ellen, sleepwalks and cries out a warning that causes the vampire to turn away. After Hutter has realized his danger, he escapes from the castle and races back to Bremen by coach, while Orlok travels by sea. Murnau intercuts not two but three events: the coach, the ship and Ellen restlessly waiting.

Griffith had given the audience the pleasure of visual power - that is, the apparent ability to see more than the protagonists of the film. In Nosferatu Murnau explores a darker pleasure: the sheer (sexual) charge of seeing itself. Nosferatu is revealed to us as the bringer of doom but also as a figure of visual fascination. Ellen Hutter finally realises that the only way to stop a vampire is to distract him so that he stays out after dawn. Thus, according to the titles, she sacrifices herself to his lust to save humanity. Yet the pictures tell a darker and more complex story. Ellen's surrender to Orlok's gaze is highly sexu-alised. His response is one of uncontrollable lust. He perishes because he cannot tear himself away from her bedside. Our observation of their confrontation is, at least in part, voyeuristic.

With Nosferatu Murnau revealed himself as a stylist particularly of the mobile camera. This mobility creates a sense of searching not to empower the viewers but rather to take them into corners they do not feel they want to visit. Murnau was also a master of framing. The corners of the screen are filled and thus used more than was or is usual. The shot composition becomes 'unbalanced' and full of tension as the eye is drawn away from its usual focus.

Murnau went on to make The Last Laugh (1924): a subtle and moving tale with Emil Jannings as a hotel doorman devastated by the loss of his job. He was inevitably lured to the newly all-powerful Hollywood, where he signed for Fox in 1926. Murnau's American masterpiece was Sunrise (1927). Janet Gaynor won an Oscar for her work as a woman whose husband considers murdering her. His last film was Tabu (1931); he was killed in a car crash on the Pacific Coast Highway just before its première, his promising career cut short at 43.

Fritz Arno Wagner was a senior figure on the production, having made many films before. He went on to contribute to some of the great classics of Expressionist cinema, including Fritz Lang's M (Germany, 1931) and Das Testament des Dr Mabuse (The Testament of Doctor Mabuse) (Germany, 1933), as well as Pabst's Kameradschaft {Comradeship) (Germany /France, 1931). Gunther Krampf, the cine-matographer who began his career with Nosferatu, went on to make over 50 films, including Die Buchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box) (Germany, 1929), Kuhle Wampe (Germany, 1932), Alfred Hitchcock's short Aventure malgache (Italy, 1944), and the Bolting Brothers' Fame Is the Spur (UK, 1946).

Like Murnau, Krampf was part of an international cinema of the 1920s into the 1930s, inspired by the figure of Erich Pommer at the UFA studio. A contender for Pommer's finest production would be Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) (Germany, 1930), directed by Josef von Sternberg (with cinematographer Gunther Ritau and editor Sam Winston) and starring Marlene Dietrich. Like Murnau, the talent base of this international production soon went to Hollywood, as did Fritz Lang and so many others.

This talent exodus ultimately drained Europe and fuelled Hollywood - just as Nosferatu drained the blood of his victims. The great British director of the inter-war years Alfred Hitchcock also learned his trade in the international atmosphere of the German cinema in the 1920s. Hitchcock, once attracted across the Atlantic by David Selznick, played his own spins on the horror genre (see Psycho, chapter 24) as well as directing the ultimate voyeur movie with Rear Window (see chapter 16).

Some Things to Watch out for and Consider

• Is Murnau's Nosferatu scary in the modern sense? Ebert thinks not: 'It doesn't scare us, but it haunts us.'

• What are the genre characteristics of 'horror'? Have they changed over the decades?

• Why is there such an enduring popularity in horror and in vampires in particular?

Further Viewing

Dracula (Browning, USA, 1931)

Nosferatu Phantom der Nachte (Herzog, Germany, 1979) Bram Stoker's Dracula (Coppola, USA, 1992) Psycho (Hitchcock, USA, 1960) Scream (Craven, USA, 1996)

The Blair Witch Project (Myrick and Sánchez, USA, 1998)

Sunrise (Murnau, USA, 1929)

Metropolis (Lang, Germany, 1927)

The Lodger (Hitchcock, UK/Italy, 1926)

Blackmail (Hitchcock, UK, 1929)

Rear Window (Hitchcock, USA, 1954)

Further Reading

T. Elsaesser, Weimar Cinema and After (London, 2000)

J. Hollows, P. Hutchings and M. Jancovich (eds), The Film Studies Reader

(London, 2000) S. Neale, Genre and Hollywood (London, 2000) J. Ursini and A. Silver, The Vampire Film (New York, 1993)

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