The term Nosferatu was popularized by the 1922 German expressionist horror film and the cinematic staple of the same name. Nosferatu is a name/term/lore synonymous with its identity in chaos in today’s modern collective unconscious.
Thomas Hutter is a salesman, played by Gustav von Wangenheim, who lives a seemingly simple and loving life in the town of Bremen with his wife Ellen, played by Greta Schroeder. Hutter is approached by a servant, Knock, of a Transylvanian Count. Knock informs Hutter that his presence has been requested at the counts Transylvania castle in order to discuss the potential sale of a suitable estate for him in Bremen. Nearing the castle of the Count, Hutter is warned of the many dangers by the locals who are frightened at the mere mention of Count Dracula’s name. He takes a couch through a high mountain pass where he is left stranded due to the coach driver’s refusal to take him any closer to the castle, ”we will go no further, here begins the land of the phantoms.” Rutter arrives at the Castle later that night and has dinner with the count, played by Max Schreck. Here he cuts his thumb and begins to suspect the Count is a vampire after he attempts to suck the blood from his wound. Hutter wakes the next morning to find two fang marks in his neck which he writes to Nina as “two mosquito bites.”
“The foreigner whose appearance is different and behavior cannot be predicted is equivalent to chaos,”(Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning pp.148) Nosferatu, the Count Dracula is in every sense of the word the embodiment of chaos to the town of Bremen. In the film, the deaths that he causes are explained by the town as the work of the plague. This is perfect symbolism for the chaos of his character and the almost unstoppable power he holds over the lives of the townfolk. This is especially true when viewing the film in the social context of 1922 and 1929 (USA release). The count’s appearance of a long crooked nose, long-claw like fingernails, and large bald head fall in line with stereotypical Jewish caricatures being produced in Germany at the time. This symbolism gives the film a deeper context in how it represents the fear that German’s viewed in the Jewish people, an unknown force, invading into their homeland.
This film is truly one of the most frightening pieces of cinema. Once you look past the dated look and campiness of the film there are clear examples of how it’s inspired the modern horror genre as a whole. My favorite examples:
- The use of silhouettes and shadows as a warning sign that introduces Nosferatu’s presence into a room late at night. This is truly terrifying.
- Nosferatu ghost-like hunting of a ship crew as a stowaway to Bremen. After the ship sets sail, crew members begin to die unaware of Nosferatu presences on the ship. The captain suspects a plague, while a ship hand suggests a stowaway. In general, the uneasiness and panic is so fucking scary. As the ship nears its destination the crew members are picked off one by one until only the captain and first mate are left. One of the most notorious scenes in the cinematic medium when the first mate is sent to investigate the cargo hold where he finds Nosferatu.
The lore of Nosferatu, vampires, is introduced to the audience by “The Book of Vampires,” a novel that Hutter finds while staying at the inn. The book states that the first Nosferatu was born in 1443, and says to never say the name aloud. The book concludes that the only way to kill a Nosferatu is to offer it the blood of a young, pure woman, who must stay at its side until sunrise and until the crow of a cock. “At this moment, as if by a miracle, the sick no longer died, and the stifling shadow of the vampire vanished with the morning sun.”
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