Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens

Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens

(pop culture)

The earliest surviving film based on Dracula (1897) is Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horrors), an unauthorized 1922 adaptation of Bram Stoker‘s novel by Prana-Film, a German company founded in 1921. The movie was the only finished product of the company. One of the company’s co-directors, Albin Grau, was a spiritualist and familiar with Dracula. He saw the book’s possibilities for presentation as a powerful motion picture. Grau hired Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (1888–1931) as director and Henrik Galeen as screenwriter.

Murnau and Galeen proceeded to make a very loose adaptation of Dracula. The title was changed to Nosferatu, a term derived from an Old Slavonic word, nosufur-atu, a word borrowed from the Greek and tied to the concept of carrying a plague. The location for the latter part of the story was changed to Bremen, Germany, and set in 1838, the year of an actual outbreak of the plague in that city. The Dracula character’s appearance was altered to appear rodent-like, and his persona tied to the rats who gathered in great numbers in Bremen when he arrived.

In the screenplay, Murnau made a variety of additional changes, including the names of all of the leading characters. Dracula was transformed into Graf Orlock, played by Max Schreck. Orlock was developed into a monstrous figure with exaggerated features—a bald head, long, claw-like fingernails. His pair of vampire fangs, rather than being elongated canines, protruded from the very front of his mouth, like a rat’s teeth. He walked with a slow labored gait and wore a long coat. He was closer to the vampire of Eastern European folklore than Stoker’s Dracula, but his distinct appearance meant that he was unable to easily move among normal society in the manner of Dracula. Thus, Orlock became, to some extent, a very different character.

In Nosferatu Jonathan Harker (renamed Waldemar Hutter and played by Gustav von Wangenheim) left his wife Mina Murray (renamed Ellen Hutter and played by Greta Schroeder-Matray) to travel to Transylvania to conduct the sale of a house next door to their home in Germany. Hutter was taken to a bridge and left there. Upon crossing the bridge, it was as if he had entered a new world. A coach with a mysterious driver met him to take him to Orlock’s castle. In his bedroom at Orlock’s castle, Hutter was bitten by Orlock, while back in Bremen Ellen simultaneously cried out Hutter’s name. The next day, Hutter discovered Orlock’s coffin, but it was too late—the vampire was already on his way to Germany.

While Orlock traveled to Germany, the major characters (soon to assemble in Bremen) were shown acting independently of each other. First, Hutter escaped but was hospitalized. Hutter’s boss, R. N. Renfield (renamed Knock, played by Alexander Granach), went mad and was confined to an asylum. Professor Abraham Van Helsing (renamed Bulwar, played by John Gottow) experimented in his laboratory with a meat-eating plant, a “vampire of the vegetable kingdom.” Orlock killed the crew on the ship that was carrying him to Bremen.

Upon the Count’s arrival in Bremen, a plague broke out in the city caused by the rats Orlock controlled. Hutter arrived with a book he had taken from the castle. It suggested that the way to defeat a vampire was through the sacrifice of a virtuous woman who allowed the vampire to remain with her until dawn. In the end, Orlock attached himself to Ellen’s neck and stayed until the sunlight destroyed him. Ellen died from the sacrifice, and immediately the plague abated.

Later Controversy: Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens premiered in the Marble Gardens of the Berlin Zoological Gardens in March 1922. The movie received good reviews initially. However, Prana-Film was financially unstable and unpaid creditors soon asserted themselves. Several weeks later, Florence Stoker, the widow of Bram Stoker, received a copy of the announcement of the film’s premier. She immediately joined the British Incorporated Society of Authors and turned to it for assistance. Because Prana-Film had neglected either to ask permission to use her late husband’s book or to pay her for using it, the society represented her. It presented the matter to its German lawyer. By June, the company was in receivership and it was clear that no money would result from pursuing the case. However, the society continued to press the matter because of its implications for later cases.

The case with the receivers, Deutsch-Amerikansch Film Union, dragged on for several years. Florence Stoker asked for the destruction of all copies of the film. The matter was finally settled in July 1925, when all copies owned by the German receivers were destroyed. However, in October of that year, she was contacted by a new organization in England. The Film Society solicited her support for its private screenings of “classic” movies. On its first list was Nosferatu by Murnau. She now had a dispute with the society, which initially refused to cancel its showing or tell her where they had obtained a copy of the film.

In 1928, Universal Pictures purchased the film rights of Dracula. As owners of the film rights, they then granted the Film Society the privilege of showing Nosferatu. Florence Stoker protested, and in 1929, the Film Society turned over its copy to her for destruction. Later that year, copies appeared in the United States in New York and Detroit under the title Nosferatu the Vampire. In 1930, these copies were turned over to Universal to also be destroyed.

After Florence Stoker’s death in 1937, various versions of the film became available, though there was little demand for it. In the 1960s, a condensed version was aired on television as part of Silents Please, a show based on old silent movies. In this version, the characters’ names were changed back to those in the Stoker novel and the name of the movie was changed to Dracula. This version was then released by Entertainment Films under the title Terror of Dracula. In 1972, Blackhawk Films released the original film to the collectors’ market under the title Nosferatu the Vampire and the Silents Please version as Dracula. In spite of the destruction of most of the copies of the original Nosferatu, one copy did survive, and a restored version of the film was finally screened in 1984 at the Berlin Film Festival and has since become commonly available.

A sound remake of Nosferatu, Die Zwolfte Stunde: Eine Nacht Des Grauens, appeared in 1930 by Deutsche Film and was probably made without Murnau’s knowledge. The film gives a reference to “artistic adaptation” by a Dr. Waldemar Roger who apparently re-edited the original film with some of Murnau’s discarded footage and then added a dance scene and a death mass. The censors later cut the death mass due to religious objections, but unlike the original, the film ended on a happy note.

In 1979, a remake of Nosferatu was produced. Nosferatu: The Vampyre featured Klaus Kinski in the title role. The new movie was written, produced, and directed by Werner Herzog. Although it kept the distinctive aspects of the original story line, it more clearly acknowledged its basis as a version of Dracula, in part by using the names of the characters in Stoker’s novel.

Nosferatu: The Vampyre was one of three important vampire movies released in 1979. The other two were Love at First Bite, the Dracula spoof with George Hamilton, and the Frank Langella version of Dracula (1979). The movie inspired a novel based on the screenplay, and a phonographic recording of the movie soundtrack was issued.

In 2000, director E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire told the saga of the making of Murnau’s 1922 original Nosferatu with one crucial change: Max Schreck was an actual vampire. According to Merhige’s version, Murnau (John Malkovich) secretly hired Schreck (Willem Dafoe), a sniveling rodent-like demon in a long coat who occasionally lunches on the film’s cast and crew. One of the movie’s producers was Nicolas Cage.


Ashbury, Roy. Nosferatu. London: York Press, 2001. 86 pp.

“Classic Horror Movies with The Missing Link,” Posted at Accessed on April 10, 2010.

Glut, Don. The Dracula Book. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1975. 388 pp.

Holte, James Craig. Dracula in the Dark: The Dracula Film Adaptations. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997. 161 pp.

Leous, Gus. “Enigmatic Max Schreck.” Newsfinder: A Literary Favour to World Culture. Posted at Accessed on April 10, 2010. Prawer, S. S. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht. Ser.: BFI Film Classics. British Film Institute, 2004. 96 pp.

Skal, David J. Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen.

The Vampire Book, Second Edition © 2011 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
It will include the Qatar premiere screening of German director FW Murnau's expressionist horror film, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror/1922/German), to the live accompaniment of the original score performed by QPO.
Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror).