To watch F.W. Murnau's ``Nosferatu'' (1922) is to see the vampire movie before it had really seen itself. Here is the story of Dracula before it was buried alive in cliches, jokes, TV skits, cartoons and more than 30 other films. The film is in awe of its material. It seems to really believe in vampires.
Watching Nosferatu is like standing in the same room as death itself, a brooding chamber piece of gothic ruminations and occult imagery, of the flickering light of the world waging a losing battle against the overwhelming darkness. Tod Browning's Dracula may be the more immediately recognized of the two earliest vampire features but it is Murnau's silent masterpiece to which the entire genre—and then some—owes its existence. Modern vampire culture, driven in large part by Anne Rice fans and their routinely fetishistic attractions toward the creatures of the night, is more superficially sexy than soulful, with an emphasis on the opportunities afforded by an eternal life and the fine line between death and ecstasy. Although not without these qualities in at least an implicit fashion, Nosferatu strips away anything that might possibly romanticize its titular character or the events that surround him: It bears witness to the festering rot of the soul, lingering on that which emanates from the dark corners of the world.