As noted critic Pauline Kael observed, “… this first important film of the vampire genre has more spectral atmosphere, more ingenuity, and more imaginative ghoulish ghastliness than any of its successors.” Some really good vampire movies have been made since Kael wrote those words, but German director F.W. Murnau’s 1922 version remains a definitive adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Created when German silent films were at the forefront of visual technique and experimentation, Murnau’s classic is remarkable for its creation of mood and setting, and for the unforgettably creepy performance of Max Schreck as Count Orlok, a.k.a. the blood-sucking predator Nosferatu. With his rodent-like features and long, bony-fingered hands, Schreck’s vampire is an icon of screen horror, bringing pestilence and death to the town of Bremen in 1838. (These changes of story detail were made necessary when Murnau could not secure a copyright agreement with Stoker’s estate.)
Using negative film, double-exposures, and a variety of other in-camera special effects, Murnau created a vampire classic that still holds a powerful influence on the horror genre. (Werner Herzog’s 1978 film Nosferatu the Vampyre is both a remake and a tribute, and Francis Coppola adopted many of Murnau’s visual techniques for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.)