Like so many other films, F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu isn’t immune to being overhyped. In fact, it’s easy to say it’s not a perfect movie, and not just to be an a-hole. Nevertheless, there is one reason to continually return to overhype it: Count Orlok. Max Schreck breathes life (or is it death?) into the Count, reminding us that horror has just as much to do with striking, freakish visuals as it does with any blood and gore. In fact, many classic horror films feature scarcely a drop of blood and yet deliver.
Murnau also deserves much credit, as do the cinematographers, Fritz Arno Wagner and Günther Krampf. They really knew how to make good old Orlok shine in the darkness, crafting him into a larger than life figure, yet also highlighting a frailty in the creature. So many visuals in Nosferatu entreat us to wonder, “What is this strange thing we call ‘Vampire’? Where does it come from? Why has it captured the public imagination?” These questions stem from the dark fairytale elements of the story, and will always outshine the more normal, human characters within the film. Or do they?…
The Normal, Human Characters in Nosferatu
When we watch horror films, don’t we tend to focus more on the villain than on the hero? Granted, there are exceptions to this like the “Evil Dead” franchise. However, typically we live to see that evildoer step into the frame. Yes, the character of Knock (Alexander Granach) is an interesting human companion to Orlok. However, if you pay attention to the saner human characters in Nosferatu, you must grudgingly admit that they’re a perfectly logical counterpoint to the sinister, looming presence embodied in Orlok. Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is the embodiment of normalcy, simply trying to procure a business deal with the Count. His wife, Ellen (Greta Schröder), represents a certain innocent beauty that inevitably conquers the darkened heart of the encroaching vampire.
How it Adds Up
In the end, it’s like it was all meant to be, and one can better understand Orlok’s death almost as the end of a plague, or some sort of storm. We’ll never exactly know why such strange hardships occur, but we can be sure that death, tragedy, and fear will find humanity somehow and eat away at its core. At the same time, there are lighter moments after the ordeal. At the very least, there is the likelihood of occasional peace and tranquility, and darkness can and will relent (at least for some). The question is, for how long?
Many years after Nosferatu, a controversial little film called Natural Born Killers would almost parody the basic premise of Nosferatu, summarizing the end as “Love conquering the demon.” It’s one of cinema’s biggest clichés now,. However, back in those days, it was probably quite refreshing. After all, people back then were somewhat more likely to believe in actual vampires and needed some hope against their superstitions.
What are your thoughts on Nosferatu? Let us know in the comments!