Roger Ebert for Great Movies:
To watch F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu 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….It doesn’t scare us, but it haunts us. It shows not that vampires can jump out of shadows, but that evil can grow there, nourished on death.
Is Murnau’s Nosferatu scary in the modern sense? Not for me. I admire it more for its artistry and ideas, its atmosphere and images, than for its ability to manipulate my emotions like a skillful modern horror film. It knows none of the later tricks of the trade, like sudden threats that pop in from the side of the screen. But Nosferatu remains effective: It doesn’t scare us, but it haunts us. It shows not that vampires can jump out of shadows, but that evil can grow there, nourished on death.
Rob Humanick for Slant:
Hunched over with a rigid posture and exhibiting pointy ears, centrally located fangs, and claw-like hands, Schreck utilizes the ugliness of these features to harrowing effect, conveying what amounts to humanity long since past any ability to recognize himself, now a creature of habit capable of experiencing only the most wretched of emotions. The cinema has rarely born witness to thesping so exquisitely combined with makeup artistry; only The Fly‘s Jeff Goldblum comes to mind as superior in such soul-wrenching expression.
Whereas Stoker’s vampire is killed by a stake, Nosferatu introduced the device of the vampire who is destroyed by the sun’s rays and where Stoker’s vampire casts no shadow, Murnau’s does throughout to great dramatic effect…Murnau may have broken the laws of vampires, but he has obeyed the laws of the cinema.
Jim Hoberman’s one-sentence capsule for the Village Voice:
The first, uncredited adaptation of Bram Stoker’sDracula is a memorably atmospheric horror film awash with free-floating German phobias about mysterious bloodsuckers from the East. Murnau’s direction defined open-air expressionism while the aptly named Max Schreck made an indelible manifestation as the undead count.