Exactly 100 years ago today, FW Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror debuted in Berlin. The now infamous horror film was an unauthorized and unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that set the ground rules for a century of horror films to come. Let’s take a look back at Nosferatu and celebrate its 100th birthday.
Nosferatu was backed by Prana Films, a short-lived German film studio founded by Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau. Grau was an occultist, who was inspired to produce a vampire movie after a Serbian farmer told him his father was one of the undead. Henrik Galeen was inspired to actualize Grau’s vision and wrote a screenplay largely based on the classic Dracula novel.
Filming took place in the summer of 1921, helmed by director FW Murnau. Max Schreck played the ominous Count Orlok, who has since become a staple imagery in pop culture. Schreck’s performance is so frightening that a film in 2000 called Shadow of the Vampire was developed, which told a fictional take on the making of Nosferatu with Schreck being an actual vampire.
The film made its debut on March 4, 1922 in the Marmorsaal of the Berlin Zoological Garden. Members of Berlin’s elite class were invited to the preview screening and arrived in Biedermeier costume. Nine days later, Nosferatu had its official premiere at Berlin’s Primus-Palast.
So, ultimately, what makes Nosferatu so iconic and why are we talking about it 100 years later? Well, for starters, Nosferatu is genuinely scary. A century on and the film remains chilling and unnerving. Count Orlok’s silhouette is immediately recognizable to this day, and has been the influence of various movie monsters and vampires over the decades, as seen in projects like Salem’s Lot, What We Do in the Shadows, and Midnight Mass. There is an eerie quality to Nosferatu that is difficult to put your finger on. Being a black-and-white silent film, there’s a rawness and somewhat minimalist quality to it that makes it all the more frightening. Nosferatu is a model for how to capture atmosphere in the context of a horror film. The artistry underlying the shadowy and menacing imagery is captivating.
Nosferatu, in many ways, remains the definitive vampire film. It’s a testament to the longevity and sheer quality of the film that it’s still discussed by horror enthusiasts and movie fanatics alike in such glowing terms. If you haven’t seen the legendary vampire picture, now is the time. Happy 100th birthday, Nosferatu!