Nosferatu Beat Sheet Analysis
To celebrate the 100-year anniversary of a classic horror film, and one of the most terrifying vampire movies of all time, I’ve prepared Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror as an STC! special treat.
Nosferatu was released on March 4, 1922. Director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (1888-1931) made 22 films in his lifetime, but is known primarily for three masterpieces: Nosferatu (1922), The Last Laugh (1924), and Sunrise (1927). The worldwide success of his two aforementioned films won Murnau a Hollywood contract with Twentieth Century Fox, and he moved to America in 1926. At the age of 42, he was killed in a car crash on the Pacific Coast Highway just before the premiere of his final film, Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931).
The vampire film was deftly remade in 1979 by Werner Herzog, called Nosferatu the Vampyre starring Klaus Kinski as the eponymous count. A 2000 metafiction film, Shadow of the Vampire starring William Defoe as actor Max Schrek, imagined the 1921 film’s production of dealing with an actual vampire on set. Defoe received an Academy Award® nomination for the role. A new version of the film by Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse, The Northman) is in pre-production with Bill Skarsgård (It’s Pennywise the Clown) as the creepy new count.
Screenplay by: Henrik Galeen
Based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker
Directed by: F.W. Murnau
Genre: Monster in the House (Supra-natural monster)
Logline: A real estate agent is sent to a distant buyer to close the deal, but becomes a pawn in the mysterious buyer’s dark agenda to possess the man’s wife.
Running time: 81 minutes
MITH Cousins: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, Interview With a Vampire, Twight, The Lost Boys, Salem’s Lot, Dracula: Dead and Loving It
Opening Image: In the fictional German town of Wisborg, Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) plucks flowers for his wife, Ellen (Greta Schroeder). She asks why have you killed the beautiful flowers? Hutter hugs his wife, laughing at her reaction. The year is 1838.
Theme Stated: The Hutters will soon have to deal with The Great Death of Wisborg, suggested in the title card, which will be brought to their town from a nefarious outsider. Xenophobia (prejudice of foreigners) is a central theme.
Set-Up: Thomas Hutter soon leaves for work. His employer is a man named Knock (Alexander Granach). In his office, Knock reads a letter enveloped in unorthodox writing.
Catalyst: Knock informs his employee that Count Graf Orlok (Max Schreck) of Transylvania is seeking a house to purchase in Wisborg. Hutter’s assured by Knock that he could make a lot of money, though it might require a bit of effort—and perhaps a bit of blood.
Debate: Hutter examines a map of Europe while he considers the proposition. Knock suggests his relator sell Orlok the nice, deserted house opposite Hutter’s own home. The enterprising Knock tells Hutter to travel quickly to the land of specters.
Hutter rushes home to inform his wife of the exciting news. Ellen is disappointed as Hutter readies to leave her with family friends, a rich shipowner named Harding (Georg H. Schnell) and his sister (Ruth Landshoff). Hutter kisses his wife to reassure her, then departs for Transylvania.
Hutter arrives at a tavern near the Carpathian mountains. After learning he’s traveling to Count Orlock’s castle, the pubgoers are terrified. The innkeeper warns him he can’t continue due to the werewolf stalking the night forest. The wolf-like creature (actually a striped hyena) frightens the horses. So Hutter stays the night in the inn.
In his room, Hutter notices a book on his nightstand: Of Vampires, Terrible Ghosts, Magic, and The Seven Deadly Sins. He reads a section on Nosferatu—blood-lusting creatures that dwell in caves filled with soil from the fields of the Black Death. Thinking nothing of it, Hutter goes to sleep. The next morning, Hutter wakes as shepherds return wayward horses to their corrals.
After traveling all day by carriage, Hutter yells to the driver to hurry before the sun sets. The frightened driver pulls over, telling Hutter he refuses to go any further. Hutter takes his gear and continues on foot, crossing a small wooden bridge and coming to a deserted road.
Break into Two: A moment later, a sinister carriage arrives with a menacing-looking driver. The silent driver motions for Hutter to clamber in. They soon arrive at a ruined castle, and the driver motions again, this time for Hutter to go inside. Hutter walks toward the castle when the door appears to open by itself. With a bit of apprehension, Hutter enters the castle. The tall, gangly Count Orlok meets him. We’re now in the upside-down world of Act Two.
Fun and Games: Count Orlok informs Hutter that all the servants have retired for the evening, so he leads his guest inside himself.
A moment later the two men sit at a table. Hutter eats as Orlok studies papers concerning his new real estate. Hutter observes Orlok so intently that he accidentally cuts his thumb while slicing bread, drawing blood. Orlok reacts immediately, remarking “precious blood.”
Orlok proposes the two spend some time together talking, as it’s several hours until dawn and the count sleeps soundly during the day. Hutter awakens the next morning to find the castle empty. He takes a mirror out of his pocket and examines his neck, where he can see two small marks.
B Story: Hutter checks out the castle grounds, stopping to write a letter to Ellen. He tells her not to be mad that her love is away. And he attributes the marks on his neck to mosquitoes. He flags down a horsebound passerby to deliver his letter. Ellen is the supporting B Story. And soon, Hutter will be fighting to save his wife from the Count.
Fun and Games (cont’d): That night, the Count pours over paperwork when he notices a portrait of Hutter’s wife. The vampire studies the picture, remarking she has such a beautiful neck. He then informs Hutter that he will buy the beautiful deserted house opposite his own.
Later, in his room, Hutter reads more from his book—an article concerning how the Nosferatu hunt and a warning not let their shadow burden your sleep. His bedroom door opens by itself to reveal Orlok, who menacingly enters the room. As he does, Ellen begins sleepwalking back in their hometown. She wanders out onto her balcony where she almost topples off. When Orlok finally leaves Hutter, the door again moving on its own behind him, Ellen falls back to sleep. The curse is already upon the Hutter family.
The next morning, Hutter decides to investigate the horrors of the castle. He discovers a coffin in the cellar, and further investigation reveals Orlok sleeping inside. Hutter leaves the basement in a state of horror.
Midpoint: That night Hutter peers out his window to discover Orlok using supernatural strength and speed to load a wagon with several coffins. After stacking the coffins, the vampire climbs into the last one before the carriage drives itself away, the stakes raising and the clock ticking. Hutter, worried about his wife, ties several sheets together in an effort to escape out his window, tying A and B Stories together. Hutter falls from his makeshift rope before reaching the bottom, and is knocked unconscious.
Bad Guys Close In: Orlok continues his journey down the river via raft, the raftsmen unaware of their cargo. Hutter is found by a farmer and is brought to a hospital, where he slowly recovers. Orlok’s coffins arrive at a seaport, where they are being loaded onto a ship. Curious sailors dump the contents of a coffin out to discover soil and rats.
Professor Bulwer (John Gottowt) presents a lecture to his class about unusual predators in nature. He shows his class meat-eating plants, remarking how similar they are to vampires. Back in Wisborg, Knock has been admitted to an insane asylum due to Orlok’s psychic influence. The real estate agent attacks his doctor, yelling that blood is life! After being subdued, Knock becomes fascinated by the spiders in his cell.
Ellen passes the time waiting for her husband, sitting on the beach. One day, Harding and his sister bring her the letter Hutter wrote while at the castle. Ellen still longs for her husband, who has recovered enough that he can return home. Orlok travels towards Wisborg via ship.
Back in the asylum, Knock steals a newspaper from one of the guards and reads an article about plague victims in the ports along the Black Sea. All the plague victims have strange marks on their necks. In the asylum, Knock realizes his master is coming.
On the ship, sailors are falling ill. The first mate and the captain come to check on their sickened crew, where the shadowy image of Orlok is watching. Soon only the first mate and captain remain alive. As they heave another body overboard, the first mate decides to finish things once and for all, and takes a hatchet into the cargo hold. He begins to break up the boxes of soil, but as he does the lid lifts off a coffin and Orlok arises.
Stricken with fear, the first mate drops his hatchet, runs to the top deck, and throws himself overboard. The captain lashes himself to the wheel, but he is soon attacked and killed by Orlok.
Hutter travels night and day to get home as quickly as possible. In Wisborg, Ellen is again sleepwalking, now speaking in her sleep, seemingly in anticipation of Orlok’s arrival.
Knock also seems to sense the arrival of the ship, becoming anxious as Orlok gets closer. The ship docks itself and the door to the cargo hold opens. Orlok immerges, carrying one of his coffins. As Orlok makes his way through town with his coffin, Hutter arrives home where he and Ellen greet each other.
All Is Lost: Back at the dock, Harding investigates the ship, finding the dead captain and a log of the journey. He reads about how illness gradually killed the eight crewman. The captain wrote of a rat infestation and the possibility of a plague. Upon reading this, Harding tells everyone to return to their homes and keep their windows and doors closed. Later the town crier announces that plague victims must stay within their homes. White crosses mark the doors of plague victims as coffins are being carried out of several houses. A whiff of death moment.
Dark Night of the Soul: Hutter tells Ellen not to read the horrible book he has brought back with him, but some force compels her to do just that. He tries to comfort her, but they both sense the presence of Orlok watching them from his new home. Harding’s sister mysteriously falls ill. Ellen watches as a funeral procession is led by her house.
Meanwhile, the fear-stricken town is searching for a scapegoat to blame for the plague, and they accuse the recently escaped Knock. They chase him throughout the city, but he eludes them, mocking the townspeople from rooftops before escaping into the woods.
Break into Three: Ellen reads from Hutter’s book. She learns that the only way to defeat the Nosferatu is if a sinless maiden gives her blood to it willingly, making it forget about the coming dawn until it is too late. This information ties A and B Stories together.
Finale: Ellen works on needlepoint, writing “Ich Liebe Dich,” a German phrase meaning “I Love You.” That night she can feel Orlok watching her from his building. She opens the window, in a sense inviting him to her. She pretends to fall ill, telling Hutter to go get Bulwer, leaving her alone to face Orlok. Hutter rushes off, leaving Ellen alone in bed. She cowers there as the shadow of Orlok creeps ever closer to her, soon enveloping her completely.
As Orlok sucks her blood, he suddenly hears a rooster crow, and realizes that he has mistakenly stayed out until dawn. He rushes to leave, but as he crosses in front of the window he walks into the beams of the rising sun. He is instantly burned, vanishing in a drift of smoke.
Captured and returned to the asylum, Knock senses that his evil master is now dead.
Final Image: Hutter finds Ellen the next morning and they embrace in her bed. The grief-stricken husband holds her for the final time before she dies with the morning sun. And back in the Carpathian mountains, Count Orlok’s destroyed castle symbolizes the end of his shadowy reign of fear.