By this point, theater-going audiences have been exposed to more permutations of the vampire myth than there are stars in the sky. Hollywood has produced suave vampires, zombie vampires, sparkly vampires, historical vampires, and hunky vampires—each more glitzy than the last iteration. F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic Nosferatu is nothing like its descendants, and that’s a good thing.
Estate agent Hutter (Gustav von Wagenheim) is dispatched to the castle of Count Orlok (Max Schreck) in Transylvania to help negotiate the purchase of some isolated property in the city of Wisbourg. Not long after entering the countryside, Hutter encounters groups of locals who are concerned for his safety due to the strange events that have been occurring near the castle grounds. Undeterred by their warnings, Hutter pushes on to the estate and completes the property transaction, but is trapped by supernatural forces after suspecting Orlok is a revenant, i.e: a reanimated corpse. Meanwhile, the Count ventures west to Wisbourg with death following close behind.
The key to this film’s creepy goodness is the exceptional performance of Max Schreck as Count Orlok. Whereas other vampires have been portrayed as handsome and charismatic, Schreck’s makeup and bizarre body language make his character grotesque and rodent-like. This Count is both disturbing and monstrous, two qualities that have been uncharacteristic of vampires in paranormal fiction for some time. The uneven lighting and scratchy black and white prints give the film a desiccated look that really suits the narrative. Fair warning, this is a classic silent film. That means a complete lack of color and audible dialog, but for those willing to overlook these technical shortcomings, a unique treat awaits.