Nosferatu: A Timeless, Beautiful Horror Story
Who would have guessed that a film with no audio could be so frightening and suspenseful? The 1922 German Expressionist silent film, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, did just that. Director F.W. Murnau was able to strike horror in his audience without even having to use audio. The film is centered around Thomas Hutter, a sort of real estate agent, who travelled from Wisborg to Transylvania to meet up with a potential client, unknowing that he was about to meet the face of evil himself, Orlok. The film was inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the style in which the film was done in was typical of black and white silent cinematography at the time. The storyline follows a similar one to the relationship between Count Dracula and Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, however in this film, the relationships built between the characters were more tragic in order to satisfy the audience’s need for an emotional appeal. Other similarities can be drawn from the townspeople’s reaction towards Orlok and the location.
Due to the fact that it was a silent film, there was a great deal of effort put into the actor’s expressions, makeup, and location in order to create the eerie, unsettling atmosphere needed for a horror movie. The appearance of Orlek is intended to make the audience feel uncomfortable and scared. Orlek is tall, pale, unattractive, and has sharp distinct features, unlike Dracula, who appeared to be approachable, strong, and seductive. The eerie feeling developed in the film is created by using a rundown castle as Orlok’s home as well as most of the film being shot at night or in a mysterious fog. Orlok’s appearance shocks the audience and makes the audience scared of what is to come, as the audience feels an impending doom approaching. Transylvania in both Dracula and Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror is portrayed in a similar manner; dark, gloomy, and scary. The setting of the film evokes the same sense of fear as the novel Dracula, although the storylines differ.
There is an interesting play on dark and light in the film. One particular instance of this is how Ellen Hutter is typically associated with light such as the daytime, whereas Orlok is associated with darkness such as the night. The ending is interesting as it seems that in order for evil to be eradicated in the world there needed to be a balance of the light and the darkness, which led to the death of both Ellen and Orlok. The concept of darkness and light also plays into the character development in the film. The film starts off with Thomas Hutter as the main protagonist, however we see the shift of the protagonist role to Ellen in the end of the film, as she is the one who sacrifices herself to save everyone else. Ellen’s goals included saving others and she was willing to put her life at stake to do so, and Orlok’s goals involved taking the lives of others to his personal gain. This shows a clear story of the narrative of light versus darkness.
The ending was intended to be tragic as Thomas was unable to save Ellen, an ending that did not fit the damsel in distress narrative of the time. This film broke this stereotype, while still keeping the audience captivated at the tragic ending. The film in itself was a silent masterpiece that accomplished many things that the audience may have doubted it could. It is a twist on Bram Stoker’s Dracula that was just as terrifying as it was a beautiful piece of cinematography.
Murnau, F. W. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. Film Arts Guild, 1922.