The king of darkness, and the king of cool.

Accidental Style Icon: Nosferatu

The titular character of the 1979 Werner Herzog film is a tragic, blood-sucking ghoul who is also stylish!

by Sophie Kemp
Oct 16 2020, 9:30am

The king of darkness, and the king of cool.

One of the only times I ever felt truly cool as a teenager was when I went to the suburbs of Boston for a weekend to stay with a friend from summer camp. It was all the usual trappings of a teenage suburban weekend: we drove around, listened to Animal Collective, hung out by a non-descriptive lake, and went to the local art house movie theater to see a midnight showing of Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu. Although we were with a whole gaggle of teenage boys, it was past my bedtime, so I just sat there in a daze, taking in the expansive German vistas and thinking to myself, I never knew a horror movie could be so boring. It’s possible I fell asleep three or four times. The evening had an impact on me mostly because I was so used to spending weekend nights posting to my Tumblr and doing my homework that it was kind of refreshing to be in a crowd of kids my own age doing something vaguely cultural.

The thing about Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu is that, despite my teenage trepidations, it’s actually a stunning movie. It’s full of castles with high ceilings, pale blue seascapes that are brimming with pearl-white flotsam, and girls running around in dreamy convalescent gowns. The movie is slow and it is also very gothic. It’s not really that scary; more of a slow burning thriller where the real rush comes from the delicate choreography of bodies in a rush of death and ecstasy. The whole movie obviously revolves around this old vampire, with a completely bald head, freakishly long nails, a long black cloak, and dark purple eyes. He is, in a sense, the most stylish character in the film. He looks like the kind of guy who should be strung out on drugs in front of Berghain, or more aptly, modeling for Balenciaga. In fact, this past season, there was a Balenciaga model who vaguely looked like Nosferatu. By that I mean he was bald and wearing all black.

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Two friends sharing a glass of wine.

Everyone wants to look like Nosferatu. He is the king of darkness, and also the king of cool. The past few years of fashion have leaned into this idea that clothing should look dangerous and be reflective of the bleak textures of this current apocalypse we are all living through. For Nosferatu, every day is an apocalypse because he is kind of undead and must feed on the blood of innocent bystanders to sustain himself. He also is forced to keep weird hours and sleep in a coffin because the sun is very bad for him. These horrible circumstances have forced him to look like a guy who “loves to party,” and does nothing but listen to harsh noise and eat soup for every meal of the day. He looks like he has opinions on philosophy and wants to tell you about them. He thinks a good first date is giving you a stick-and-poke tattoo of a knife out of his windowless bedroom in an East Williamsburg loft.

What would you do if this guy was your Tinder date?

Nosferatu is ultimately a tragic figure, and an essential text in goth culture. Before the pandemic, a few friends and I went to ’80s night at the Pyramid Club and while all my friends were dancing to Depeche Mode, all I could think about was that so many of the guys there kind of looked like Nosferatu. I personally do not think Nosferatu would be caught dead at a theme night; I think he would rather be listening to Wagner in a medieval torture chamber, which is arguably the coolest thing any loner type doomed to float around 19th century Germany could do. Poor guy. All he wants to do is suck your blood.

Werner Herzog