Nosferatu: a symphony of Horror (1922) Other Films by F. W. Murnau

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Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

Other Films by F. W. Murnau:

The Last Laugh (1924); Tartuffe (1926); Faust(1926); Sunrise (1927); Tabu (1931)

Scenes to Look for in Nosferatu:

  • Hutter cutting his hand at the dinner table

  • Nosferatu rising from his coffin on board ship

  • Crosscuts between Ellen sleepwalking and Nosferatu approaching the sleeping Hutter

  • Nosferatu’s visit to Ellen’s bedroom near end of film

  • Ellen looking our her window at the procession of the vampire’s victims

Terms/Concepts/Figures/Films to Know This Week: German Expressionism, the horror film, genre, negative footage, UFA, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, chiarascuro lighting, low angles, depth-of-focus, subjective camera,kammerspielfilm, G.W. Pabst, street realism, Weimar cinema

Critical Commentary:

“We love scary movies because we all have a deep desire to dare the nightmare."—Stephen King

“Murnau possessed a unique faculty of obliterating the boundaries between the real and the unreal. Reality in his films was surrounded by a halo of dreams and presentiments, and a tangible person might suddenly impress the audience as a mere apparition.”

--Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (Princeton: Princeton Univ. P., 1947), 78.

“Expressionism in the German cinema was more than a style; it was an atmosphere and an ethos.”

–Robin Wood, “Murnau:1. Nosferatu.” Film Comment 12.3 (May-June 1976): 5-9.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What conventions of the horror genre do you see in Nosferatu?


  1. How does Count Orlok differ from other vampires you have seen in movies?  Why are these differences significant?  How do they inform our discussion of monsters as symbols of psychological horror?

  1. How is Orlok represented visually in the movie?  What other images are used to show his presence?  What do these images suggest allegorically?

  1. Women often occupy important, if powerless, roles in horror movies. Please respond to this observation in light of Ellen’s portrayal in Nosferatu.

  1. Describe the relationship between Hutter, Ellen, and Nosferatu.  How does the intrusion of Orlok into their relationship function thematically?  What do you make of Ellen's behavior? What parallels are drawn between Hutter and Nosferatu regarding Ellen? Why is it significant that Ellen ultimately destroys Nosferatu and not Hutter?

  1. Stoker's Dracula, the inspiration for Nosferatu, is often seen as a tale about xenophobia, that is, the fear of the foreign.  What does Nosferatu do to maintain or subvert this theme in its source material?

  1. The film devotes a fairly significant amount of time to Nosferatu’s passage on board ship. Why? What is significant about the sea and its associations, and how is that significance conveyed by the film?

  1. The figure of Nosferatu is continually associated with the plague. What do you make of this association? What is symbolically important about plagues, and how is that symbolism played out here?

  1. Nosferatu has a narrator, whose story is often represented for us as discrete pages from a memoir. What do you make of this element of the film? What kind of information or descriptions do these pages provide us? What do you think Judith Mayne means when she writes that “The problem of narration in Nosferatu is the disjuncture between narrator and screen”?

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