F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu is the version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula ever filmed and very possibly the scariest movie ever made. But it’s not scary because the vampire is after his victim’s blood. It’s not even scary because Max Schreck gives such a brilliant physical performance with eyes, hands, and teeth that all look ready to kill, although his performance is so brilliant that the makers of the film Shadow of the Vampire about the making fo this film concluded that Max Schreck was so great in this role because he really was a vampire. No. Nosferatu is possibly the scariest movie ever made because it plays with the basic human truth that fear is valuable.
As a Christian, I hear people all the time tell others not to be afraid of anything because the Bible says not to fear. What they don’t understand is that those commands are about being controlled by fear. Of course being controlled by fear is dangerous and unhealthy, but fear in and of itself is life-saving. It’s what keeps us from doing stupid things that could kill us all the time. This distinction is exactly what Nosferatu is about.
Hutter meets Count Orlak just thinking he’s a weird old man. Hutter (Gustav van Wagenheim) has every reason to be afraid, but because he’s not afraid he gives into everything the Count wants. The Count doesn’t start with blood. He starts with Hutter’s mind. Because Hutter’s not scared, he’s gullible, he’s willing to believe the Count and willing to let the Count brainwash him until the plague takes hold. Once the Count has won Hutter’s mind, his blood is easy to get.
Hutter temporarily left his wife Ellen (Greta Schröder) to work to get what he thought they both wanted, what he could only get through the Count. But Ellen felt the fear that Hutter didn’t. She was consumed by fear and kept at such a distance. Those two things meant that she had no power over the circumstances. She was paralyzed by fear. But assuming that we all know the story of Dracula, I can safely say that it’s when she finally decides to act, she acts out of fear instead of remaining inactive because of the fear. When she acts out of fear, she does exactly what her husband told her not to do since she valued fear and he didn’t. In acting out of that value for fear, she saves them both.
Fear and respect go hand in hand. If we don’t respect what someone or something is capable of, we have no reason to fear it. If we don’t fear things worth fearing, it can literally mean death. Nosferatu gives a terrifying yet beautiful image of why fear is valuable and what the road of death that the lack of respect for fear can lead to.