NOTE: I will be using the names of the characters from the English version of the movie, as this is the version I am most familiar with. Other reviews of “Nosferatu” often use the German version, where the names are different. For example, Nosferatu is called Count Orlock, Harker is called Hutter, Renfield is called Knock etc. Below is the cast of the film, along with their character names, so as to make referencing them easier.
Count Dracula, The Vampire
– MAX SCHRECK
Renfield, An Estate Agent – ALEXANDER GRANACH
Jonathan Harker, Renfield’s Clerk – GUSTAV VON WANGENHEIN
Nina, His Wife – GRETA SCHROEDER
Westenra, Harker’s Friend – G.H. SCHELL
Lucy, His Wife – RUTH LANDSHOFF
The Professor – JOHN GOTTOWL
The Town Doctor – GUSTAV BOTZ
Captain of the “Demeter” – MAX NAMETZ
First Mate – WOLFGANG HEINZ
The story of “Nosferatu” is one of gothic horror, sensuality and ultimately, death. Unlike Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, the events in the movie take place, not in London, but in Bremen, Germany during the 1830’s. Many people call this film an example of German post-Impressionism, and to some extent it is.
The story revolves around the characters, Jonathon Harker, a real estate agent, and his beloved wife, Nina. Early in the movie we see the true love that they have for one another. The best example of this is when Harker picks some flowers for his wife and they embrace in a very loving embrace. He then cradles her head and speaks to her in loving tones. This is meant to impart the almost ‘oneness’ that they share with each other. Something that becomes more important as the film progresses.
Harker goes to work and talks with his supervisor, Renfield. Renfield tells Harker that Count Dracula wants to buy a house in the city and encourages Harker to take this account by saying “The Count is rich and free with his money”. Unbeknownst to Harker, Renfield is an agent of Nosferatu. He received a letter earlier from his Master instructing him to send Harker to Transylvania to complete the deal on the house. Harker agrees to go to Romania and hurries home to pack. Nina is quite upset that her husband will be gone for several months. Harker tries to comfort his wife by assuring her that nothing will happen to him. Nina is still quite distraught, so Harker has her stay with his friends, Westenra andh is wife, Lucy, so that she will be looked after.
Harker then begins his travel to Nosferatu’s castle. As he is passing through the Carpathians, he stops to have dinner at a local village inn. As he is already running late, he asks the staff to hurry with his dinner, because, he says, “I should already be at Count Dracula’s castle”. This statement causes quite a stir among the patrons and staff. The owner comes up to him and shakes his head. He warns Harker that the demons “become all-powerful at night” and not to travel during the night. Harker heeds his warning and agrees to stay the night at the inn.
The next day, Harker boards a carriage that takes him to the outskirts of Transylvania. As night is beginning to fall, the carriage stops at a bridge and the driver instructs Harker to exit the carriage, because the driver is too scared to cross the bridge at night and enter what he calls “The Land of Phantoms”. Harker exits the carriage and the driver speeds away back home.
As Harker crosses the bridge, things get a little more menacing. As the story says, “And when he crossed the bridge, the demons came out to meet him.” There is then a cut away to Nosferatu’s castle, looming ominously in the dusk. Right after this, another horse-drawn carriage comes to meet Harker. This one, however moves with almost ghost-like speed and appears almost diabolical in demeanor. The coachman appears to be Nosferatu himself, his face mostly hidden behind a pulled up coat and hat. He motions Harker into the carriage. Harker hesitates for a moment, then enters the carriage. The coachman then takes off at almost lightning speed, covering ground at an amazing pace. All the while, Harker is being jostled all over the place within the carriage. After a few moments, the carriage reaches Nosferatu’s castle, Harker exits the carriage and the coachman speeds away as fast as he did before.
After the coachman leaves,Harker than approaches Nosferatu’s monstrous castle. As the light adjusts. he sees Nosferatu himself standing at the front door, motioning him inside with a long bony finger. Harker, while a little hesitant, enters the castle. Inside the castle, Nosferatu says that “You are late young man, it is almost midnight, and all of my servants have retired.” He then leads Harker to his dining area, where a sumptuous dinner awaits him. Nosferatu encourages Harker to eat his fill, (of course, to produce more blood).
Side Note: There is one interesting seeming inconsistency with the above scenes. First, the coachman that picks up Harker is seemingly Nosferatu himself. However, right after the coachman speeds away, Harker approaches the castle and standing right there is Nosferatu as well. Are we supposed to believe that the coachman was a Nosferatu servant or minion? Or that Nosferatu has the supernatural power to either be at two places at once or can move ethereally at will? I have always found it to be an interesting little interlude.
As this is going on, Nosferatu is going over the paperwork for the new house. Harker looks nervously at the rather odd expression that Nosferatu has on his face as he is reading. So much so, that when Harker is using a knife to cut a piece of bread, he accidentally cuts his thumb and it starts bleeding. Nosferatu immediately comes over to Harker’s chair, takes his bleeding thumb and sucks the blood right off of it, saying “Blood! Your precious blood!” Harker pulls his hand away and sort of backpedals as Nosferatu offers him a seat in his parlor. “Let us chat for a moment, my friend. There are still several hours until dawn and I have all the whole day to sleep.” The implication here is that Nosferatu is hypnotizing Harker as he almost wills him into the parlor chair.
The next scene shows Harker asleep in the chair. It is now morning and he is now feeling a lot more comfortable with the sun shining through the castle windows. He then stretches, feels his neck, picks up a small mirror that is laying nearby and sees that there are two small pinprick-sized holes in his neck. He laughs this off and proceeds to the dining area where a huge breakfast awaits him. He eagerly eats his fill, then goes outside to the gazebo and begins writing a letter to Nina.
“Nina, my beloved,
Don’t be unhappy. Though I am far away, I love you.
This is a strange country. After my first night in the castle, I found two large bites in my neck. From spiders? From Mosquitoes? I don’t know.
I have had some frightful dreams, but they were only dreams. Do not worry about me.”
After Harker finishes the letter, a local villager happens by, riding his horse. Harker flags him down, and asks him to take the letter to the local post.
Later on, in the evening, Harker and Nosferatu go over the legal papers for purchasing the house. As Nosferatu is going over them, he notices that Harker is carrying a small cameo with Nina’s picture in it. He asks if he can look at it. Harker hands it to him. Nosferatu then asks “Is this your wife? What a lovely throat.” Harker then takes back the cameo and they finish up their paperwork.
Side Note: This was obviously meant as a little bit of intentional humor.
A little later, Harker is in his bedroom, and kisses the cameo. After witnessing th odd behavior of his host, he also is a little suspicious, so he opens the Book of the Vampires and reads a passage:
This is followed by the passage:
“One can recognize the mark of the vampire by the trace of his fangs on the victim’s throat.”
As he is reading these passages, the clock strikes midnight, and Harker looks up with a start. He then goes over to the bedroom door and opens it. There, standing about 20 feet away, first in shadow, then in a soft glowing light, is Nosferatu in all his glory. Harker closes the door, but finds no way to lock it. He then runs over to the window, but sees it is way too high for him to jump out of. He then gets on the bed, scared out of his wits, as the door opens and Nosferatu slowly walks in.
Nosferatu at Harker’s bedroom door
While this is going on, Nina, asleep in Westenra’s house, suddenly awakens in a sleepwalking, dream-like state. She exits the bedroom onto the patio and begins walking on the ledge of it. Westenra, busy writing a letter, hears her walking, and goes to the patio, just in time to catch her as she falls off the ledge. He then tells his servant to summon the doctor. The movie then cuts back to Harker and Nosferatu. You see Nosferatu’s shadow, showing only his head and hands extended, with the claws clearly visible, slowly bending over Harker’s body. Nina then awakens again with a start and cries “Jonathon! Jonathon! Hear me!” The implication here is the she beseeching her husband to wake up before he is bitten. Harker, however, does not awaken and then Nosferatu is shown standing up straight after feeding on Harker. He then slowly turns his head as if he also hears Nina’s cries. Nosferatu then walks to the door and exits the bedroom.
In the morning, Harker awakens, still quite terror-stricken. He checks his throat and sees that overall it is in good condition. He then rushes down to the crypt area of the castle and enters it. There, he sees a large coffin. He opens the small little panel on the top of it and sees Nosferatu’s menacing face. This startles him, but summoning up his courage, he then throws open the whole top door of the coffin and sees Nosferatu lying asleep in the coffin. This causes him to run to the stairway leading upstairs, however, he is so panicked that he literally loses his legs from underneath him.
The next scene shows Harker on the floor, in his bedroom. He then hears a commotion downstairs and goes to a window that overlooks the crypt. There, he sees Nosferatu loading a bunch of coffins onto his horse-drawn coach. Nosferatu then speeds away from the castle on his coach. Harker then cries in anguish, since he realizes that Nosferatu is not only a vampire, but that he is on his way to Bremen, and most importantly, to Nina.
Harker then proceeds to tear the sheets from his bed and construct a makeshift rope and begins climbing down the side of the castle. The rope is a little too short to reach all the way down, so Harker then jumps the rest of the way. Weak from blood loss, the fall is too much for him to take and he passes out a few moments later. The next time Harker is seen, he is in bed in a local village home. A nurse tells the doctor that some local peasants found him and brought him there. Harker then awakens in a delirious state. He starts babbling, “Coffins! Coffins! Filled with earth!” He then again passes out from his weakened condition.
Meanwhile, Nosferatu has somehow managed to smuggle both himself and the coffins he was taking with him onto a small boat. The boat is going down a small river valley to the local harbor. As the cargo is being loaded onto a ship, the S.S. Demeter, one of the men, moving one of Nosferatu’s coffins, chops it open and inside a swarm of rats come scurrying out.
The next scene then goes to Dr. Van Hesling giving a lecture on various insect life. He shows his students a Venus fly trap. A large fly is seen crawling around inside one of these plants, then is shown being trapped and killed by it. The Doctor then tells his students, “Amazing, isn’t gentlemen? This plant is the vampire of the plant kingdom.” (An obvious reference to Nosferatu).
Meanwhile, Renfield, becoming more and more insane, is finally put into the local insane asylum. One of the guards comes to the Asylum’s head keeper and proclaims that Renfield has completely lost his mind. The two men then proceed to Renfield’s cell. There they see Renfield huddled in one corner, laughing manically, almost insanely. Renfield then proceeds to grab at the flies that are buzzing around his cell. He then proceeds to eat them while saying “Blood..blood..” He then gets up and staggers across the room, almost like he is having a seizure, then proceeds to throw himself against the two men. The guard is able to subdue him and get him back on his bed. Renfield then points to a spider web in the corner of the room. There, a spider is seen wrapping up a fly that is caught in the web. The implication here is that Renfield is the fly, caught in the web of Nosferatu.
As this going on, the movie shifts back to Nina among the dunes of the sea, awaiting her husband’s return. She looks at the sea, wave after wave rolling over the horizon. Then Westenra and Lucy come down to the where Nina is sitting and give her the letters that Harker had written. She reads them both, and then runs up the beach and back to her home, visibly shaken.
Side note: The implication here is that Nina understood that Nosferatu was also on his way to Bremen.
Nina sitting among the dunes
The movie then shifts to a shot of the ship that was being loaded with the cargo, the S.S. Demeter, with Nosferatu also onboard, lying in his coffin. There is then a shot of Harker, leading his horse through some brush, also heading back to Bremen. The obvious implication here is that it is almost a race as to who will reach Bremen, and Nina, first.
At this point, the movie continues to switch back and forth between several scenes. The next one is back in Renfield’s cell, where the guard is busy sweeping up the dusty cell. As he is sweeping, Renfield swipes a newspaper article that the guard has in his back pocket. Renfield proceeds to read that a new plague has spread across Eastern Europe. The article goes on to say that the affliction is mainly affecting the young and vigorous and that the two small bite marks on the victim’s neck baffles scientists. Renfield then proceeds to laugh manically, for he now realizes that Nosferatu is on his way to Bremen.
The next scene then again shows Harker, this time riding his horse, proceeding his way back home. The film then shifts back to the Demeter. The First Mate goes to the ship’s Captain and says, “Aboard the Demeter, first one man was stricken, then all.” The Captain and the First Mate then proceed to the hold, and laying in a hammock is one of the crewman, obviously ill. The Captain proceeds to berate the crewman, obviously thinking he is just faking his illness. The Captain then proceeds back to his office,. The First Mate then gives the crewman something to drink, puts a blanket over him and then leaves. A moment later, a transparent, ghost-like vision of Nosferatu is seen hovering over of the coffins. The crewman sees this and proceeds to totally freak out.
There is then another short shot of Harker walking his horse past a horse post. The film then shifts back to the Demeter, supposedly a few days later. There, the Captain and First Mate are shown burying the last of the crew into the sea. After a moment of silence, the First Mate says he is going to take a look in the hold. He then proceeds down there and picks up an axe. Thinking there may be rats or other vermin hiding in one of the coffins, he proceeds to begin chopping at one of the coffins. Unfortunately for the First Mate, it is Nosferatu’s coffin he is chopping up. At first a few rats come scurrying out of the coffin, but, after a few more chops on the coffin, the First Mate sees the figure of Nosferatu lying in the coffin. To his horror, he sees Nosferatu slowly arise from the coffin, in a totally erect position. He screams in horror, drops the axe, and scrambles to the deck of the ship. There the Captain is busy steering the ship. The First Mate, however, is so panicked, that he just points down to the hold, all the while his face cloaked in total terror. After this, he goes to the edge of the ship and proceeds to dive into the water, despite the Captain’s pleas for him not to.
The Captain, seeing that he is the last men onboard ship, takes a rope that is lying nearby and lashes himself to the wheel of the ship. A moment later, Nosferatu, now fully awake and on the deck of the ship slowly proceeds towards the Captain. The Captain seems almost passive and bewildered as he sees Nosferatu approach him. The scene ends here, but the end result of what happened is obvious.
The next scene shows Nina, back at Westenra’s house, looking out over the balcony, waiting. She then raises her arms, as she did before when she was walking on the ledge, The film shifts from a scene showing the ship to a shot of Harker and then back to Nina. Lucy, seeing that Nina is out on the balcony, goes out to see if she is OK. Nina then turns towards Lucy and says, “He was arrived. I must go to meet him.” Again, this is another ambivalent statement, as the implication is that she is either talking about Nosferatu or Harker. To further demonstrate this, the film shows Nina running out of the house, while at the same time cutting back to a scene of the ship sailing towards the local port.
Meanwhile, Renfield, sensing that his Master is approaching, scrambles up the wall in his cell and looks out the widow. There he see the ship coming into port. He then smiles evilly and intones, “The is approaching! The Master is here! He then turns towards the guard, who is busy with changing his bed, and jumps on him, knocking him out.
The movie then cuts to a picture of the door leading down to the ship’s hold, covered by a tarp. Here, is one the creepier scenes of the movie. Using the stop-motion technique, the trap slowly moves off of the door, the doors open and a scene of Nosferatu slowly emerging from the hold. After this, Nosferatu is shown carrying his coffin through the streets en route to his new house. Opposing this are scenes of Harker approaching his own home. This continues for a few moments until Harker finally reaches his house and is greeted by a very happy and relieved Nina. They rush into each others arms and embrace. Again, the scene shifts back to Nosferatu and his coffin, walking through town, almost telepathically being drawn to the house by Harker and Nina. This is evident when the film cuts back to Harker and Nina kissing. At this moment, Nosferatu, for a second looking around as if a little lost, then turns his head, smiles and rushes towards the house, as if picking up a vibration by their act of love. Nina then says to Harker, “Oh Jonathon! Thank God you are safe! Now I feel too that I have been saved!”
From here, we see a contingent of men at the local, investigating the ship that has come into port. Westenra, also present, boards the ship and goes to the Captain’s Quarters and find the ship’s log. The first passages simply relates the ship’s leaving port, passengers and number of crew aboard. Westenra than takes the log back to the dock, where he, the Doctor, and the other men have gathered. Westenra then proceeds to read aloud the rest of the log. The Captain mentions that one of his crew, the strongest, has taken ill and also that the First Mate says that there is a stowaway hiding below decks and the he will investigate. The next passage relates that there is panic aboard ship, that three men have died and that the First Mate has gone out of his mind. He also reports that there are rats in the hold and that he fears the plague. This alarms the Professor, who takes the log and rereads the passage. He then exclaims, “The plague is here! Stay in your houses!”
As time goes on and the plague starts to ravage the city of Bremen, there is a scene of a man with a drum and clothed in official government clothing who open up a scroll and reads a proclamation from the Burgomaster of Bremen forbidding the citizens to bring their sick to the local hospitals until further notice.
Back at Harker’s house, Nina finds the Book of the Vampires. Although she promised her husband that she would never read it, she found herself unable to resist the temptation. She reads the following passages:
“One can recognize the mark of the vampire by the trace of his fangs on the victim’s throat.”
“Only a woman can break his frightful spell – a woman pure in heart, who will offer her blood freely to Nosferatu and keep the vampire by her side until the cock crows”
Harker then comes into the room and sees her with the book. Nina gets up and points out the window faces Nosferatu’s new house and theirs. She says, “Look! Every night…in front of me” Harker then goes over to the window, looks out it and tried to reassure his wife it is everything is OK, that she is probably mistaken. Nina, still clutching the book, begins to sob and runs out of the room. Harker then looks out the window and realizes that Nosferatu, indeed is right across the way. He staggers back for a moment, then collapses on the bed in anguish.
The plague was now getting out of control within the city. As the film puts it, “The townspeople live in mortal terror. Who was sick or dying? Who would be stricken tomorrow?” At this point, the film cut to Westenra and Lucy. Lucy is lying in bed, obviously ill. Westenra tries to comfort comfort her, then says, “Do not worry. I will get the Professor.” After he leaves the room, there is whistling of wind and the camera shows an open window with drapes fluttering in a heavy breeze. Lucy scrambles out of bed, but before she can reach the window, she cowers against a wall, underneath a clock. The presumption here is that Nosferatu is causing these events and then enters and kills Lucy.
Side Note: This scene has always kind of puzzled me. Mainly because things happen so fast that it appears there is some missing footage from the print. I have seen a few different prints of this movie, and this scene always plays out exactly the same way. I have always thought that the scene would continue with Nosferatu entering the house, biting Lucy etc. However, I have not seen the totally restored DVD copy of Nosferatu yet. So, until I see that, I will always wonder about this scene.
From here, we see Nina looking out the window as townspeople carry a long line of caskets down the city street. Caskets filled with the victims of Nosferatu’s plague. Nina then goes over to a chair and again picks up the Book of the Vampires. She rereads the passage about how only a woman pure in heart can destroy the vampire. She bends over, as if in pain, knowing what she must do to save the townspeople and her husband.
There is than a scene, almost comical in nature, of Renfield, after his escape from the asylum, being chased by townspeople all over the town. He then manages to get on the roof of one of the houses. The people then start hurling rocks at him. Some of the stones hit him, but he seems to pay it no mind. After a few moments of this, Renfield goes to the over side of the house and lowers himself down and proceeds to do a mad dash towards a local farm field. The townspeople being chasing him, and after entering the field, see a figure off in the distance, who looks like Renfield. They come up to it and proceed to tear it apart. Unfortunately for them, they find it is nothing but a scarecrow.
As this is going on, Nina is shown sewing, all the while, torn between doing what she must to do, and clinging to the human instinct of self-preservation. The next scene shows Nosferatu looking out his window, towards Harker’s window. Nina, asleep at the point, awakens with a start, as the vampire is compelling her to the window. She hesitates a few times, then finally, her bravery takes over and she flings open the shutters. Nosferatu, seeing this as an invitation to come over to the house, slowly moves away from the window.
Harker himself is asleep in a chair in the room. Nina, knowing she must get him out of the room, feigns being sick, Harker wakes and catches her as she is about to faint. Nina than implores her husband to get the Professor, so as to get him away from the situation. Harker hurries out the house to go and fetch the him.
Nosferatu then emerges from his front door in almost the same fashion as he did exiting the ship’s hold. the door opening by itself. Nina senses and jumps with a sudden reaction of terror. She then slowly moves towards her bed, awaiting in fear, the arrival of the vampire. Nosferatu then crosses the way and proceeds up the stairway in one of the most famous scenes in movie history.
Meanwhile, Harker reaches the Professor’s house and finds him there asleep in a chair. Harker awakens him and tells to accompany him double-quick. The Professor takes off of his robe, dons his hat and follows Harker back to his home.
Back at Harker’s house, Nosferatu, as usual, enters the room almost a shadow. Nina, now leaning hard against the backboard of the bed, closes her eyes and tries to avoid the vampire’s gaze, all the while resisting the the natural inclination to flee. The shadow of Nosferatu’s hands are shown reaching slowly up Nina’s midsection to her breast, suggestion the usual eroticism and sexual overtones associated with vampire. Nina, winces in pain, but does not resist and offers her blood freely to Nosferatu. So freely in fact, that Nosferatu literally loses track of time, until he hears the cock crow, signaling sunrise. Nosferatu stops feeding, and slowly looks up with a look of almost astonishment on his face. Renfield, back in his cell after being recaptured, senses the danger that Nosferatu is in, and cries, “Master! Master! Beware!”
Nosferatu slowly gets up and briefly glances out the window with one eye as the sun slowly rises. He then tries to walk past the now sun filled window but as he is about halfway past it, the rays of the catch him full stride. The vampire uses his hands to try to shield the sun from his body, but it is too late. He turns at a 180 degree angle, clutches his heart, and fades away until there is nothing left of him but a puff of smoke. Renfield, now tied in ropes to restrain him, sadly says to himself, “The Master is dead.”
Meanwhile, Harker and the Professor hurry towards his house. Nina than awakens, in a delirious, happy, dream-like state. She puts her arms out and calls, “Jonathon!” Harker runs up the front steps of the house and tears into the bedroom. He grabs Nina’s hand and holds it tight, all the while professing his love for her and that things will be alright. Nina, however is too weak and blood-deprived at this point and slowly collapses onto the bed, dead. The film then cuts to the Professor, standing just outside the bedroom in mourning, while in the background, Harker is sobbing on the bed.