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Horror masterpiece and my favourite film of all time!
I feel I might not be the best person to review this film, because as the title suggests, this is my favourite film of all time and thus I really cannot stay objective. I saw Nosferatu for the first time when I was 12 years old and it was my first proper horror film and had a massive impact on me growing up.
Nosferatu is (as far as I know) the oldest surviving vampire film and the first proper on-screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, even though Murnau made heavy changes to the plot and switched all of the names. The christian and patriarchal overtones of the original novel have here been switched into a more directly sexualized approach. The vampire is not repelled by crosses or other religious symbols, but instead is finally vanguished by the rays of the morning sun after giving in to his lust for Ellen. Also while in the original novel and later Dracula movies Van Helsing is a central figure on the plot and appears as a wise and paternal teacher, here he is more of a doting old man who in the end is largely useless against the vampiric menace. The vampire Count Orlock is also switched from the usually depicted more noble gentleman to a ghoulish, ratlike and shrivelled fiend with very few human characteristics. He is also much more associated with plague and disease, which actually is more closely related to older European vampire legends rather than the Stoker novel. This depiction of evil as a plague and disease spreading over civilization is also a common theme in Murnau films overall.
This film has been often associated with the German expressionist movement and while yes, I do agree that the film has a strong expressionist streak going through it, it also at times brings to ming the older German Romantic art of the 19th century. Actually a lot of the nature scenery especially has a strong resemblance to paintings by Caspar David Friedrich. There's also a lot great use of shadows and architectural shapes across this film and the acting, while very much dated, definitely has it's moments. Max Schreck is brilliant as the ghoulish vampire, Gustav Von Wangenheim goes through a believable (though exaggerated) transition from a careless and naive youth to an adult and Greta Schröder as overly sensitive and pained Ellen is actually really good also and definitely should get more recognition. Of course with this being a silent film it's hard to say anything about the sound, but after hearing the original score for the film I have to say that the musically this film is absolutely spot on. Just cacophonous and noisy enough to be unnerving, without going too abstract.
The mood of this film is definitely it's greatest asset. Watching this alone in the dark at night puts you in a really weird and freaked out mood. The whole film has this slow burning heavy pace that feels almost ritualistic, slowly building into the unbearably intense finale. Of course you shouldn't expect jumpscares or really any kind of obvious scare tactics with a film this old, but give it a chance and take it seriously, and it will creep under your skin and haunt you for a long time. I remember watching this for the first time alone at night when I was twelve and being obsessed by it afterwards for weeks. It definitely sparked my lifelong love affair with the horror genre and helped me get into writers such as HP Lovecraft, and all kinds of darker and more sinister art, cinema, literature and music.
So yeah, an essential horror classic that everyone should see and my all time favourite film. Just be prepared that due to the age of this film it might require more effort than just making popcorn on your part. Set the mood right and this film can turn into an unforgettable experience. Also make sure that you have a good quality print to watch, as many of the cheaper public domain versions have an atrocious image quality and often very random music choices. Personally I recommend the Eureka Masters Of Cinema version, as it is a very good restoration and has the original orchestral score.