In order to even remotely enjoy 1922’s silent classic Nosferatu, you must nearly suppress any and all horror expectations. You will get some elements, however, through visuals of the monster, himself. In 1922, Nosferatu was a really good movie. Undeniably groundbreaking. But by today’s standards, its incredibly slow narrative and undeveloped characters make it unwatchable at times.
Based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu calls its title character Count Orlok instead of Count Dracula. Orlok (Max Schreck) plans to move from his infamous castle in Transylvania to Germany. Our hero, real estate agent, Jonathon Harker (Gustav von Wangenheim), is sent by his mysterious employer, Renfield (Alexander Granach), to accompany Orlok.
When you put it into perspective that Universal’s 1931 Dracula adaptation was released only 9 years after this film and is dated in its own right, Nosferatu’s shortcomings really start to come to light.
For instance, in this 1922 version it takes nearly an hour to accomplish what the 1931 Dracula takes 10 minutes to do. Here, the majority of the plot deals with Orlok leaving his home in Transylvania and arriving in Germany. The story attempts to share with us some of the famous Dracula lore, but its own version is muddled.
There are moments when it seems like time is going by without the plot progressing forward at all. The story is much less polished than future adaptations, and we get a diminished role for Dr. Van Helsing (John Gottowt). We wish more time is spent on developing our characters in a realistic way. Instead, our leading lady, Harker’s wife, Ellen (Greta Schröder), is portrayed having plight, but it’s completely undeserved. She just mopes around the entire movie until she finally finds the book on vampires that she hopes will help her defeat Orlok.
What undeniably stands out the most is Max Schreck in the title role. He’s creepier than any incarnation of Dracula I’ve ever seen, and for a nearly-100-year-old film, that’s an accomplishment up there with the most accomplished classics ever. A few times the camerawork plays to his favor, heightening his imagery and the suspense, but mostly the tension just comes from the way he carries himself and the brilliant makeup work done on his face. Nosferatu is worth watching if only for the vampire, himself. However, there’s not nearly enough of him.
If you find the right version, the sinister organ music will add to the classic macabre feel exuding from this picture, but if you’re buckling down and expecting to be highly entertained, Nosferatu isn’t necessarily the best choice.