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Nosferatu at 100: A silent horror masterwork that continues to chill

By Jesse Hassenger

31 Oct 2022 · 3 min read

The studio attempted to destroy all copies and yet this triumph of German expressionist cinema has lived on. Seems fitting for a vampire tale.

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It feels right, the knowledge that Nosferatu has been around for a full century. A few years after its 1922 release, the odds were not in its favor: in 1924, the studio behind FW Murnau’s silent horror film agreed to destroy all copies of the film, as part of a copyright infringement case pursued by Florence Balcombe, the widow of the Dracula author Bram Stoker. Nosferatu is not technically an adaptation of Dracula, in the sense that it was produced without the permission of Stoker’s estate and changed the names of all major characters, as well as the setting and some of the story. But it is more than close enough to inspire legal action (and supposedly the original German intertitles even acknowledged the book), which is why it was essentially sentenced to death following its original run.

Befitting the subject of vampirism (if not the specific brand of vampirism practiced therein), the movie not only came back to life, but spread, in both its influence and the sheer number of versions, some lovingly restored and some simply bastardized, that have circulated over the years – including during the streaming age. For the curious, plenty of services, including a number of free ones like Tubi, carry a version of Nosferatu, though your best bet is probably the one streaming on the Criterion Channel. It features the correct color-tinting, intertitles, and running time (some versions are sped up), and generally looks terrific for a 100-year-old movie whose studio attempted to destroy all copies.

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