Adapted from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, a vampire is sold a house and on a ship with rats brings a plague to a town.
In Wisborg during the Great Plague of 1838 Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) and his wife Ellen (Greta Schroeder) are enjoying a happy life at home. Hutter walks to work.
The estate agent Knock (Alexander Granach) examines a document and tells his assistant Hutter that Count Orlok of Transylvania wants to buy a beautiful house in their town, and he could earn some money if he made the effort in sweat and blood. Knock tells him to offer him the house opposite his.
At home Hutter tells Ellen that he is going on a trip. He packs, and they say goodbye. He leaves his wife with the rich, ship-owner Harding (George H. Schnell) and his sister (Ruth Landshoff).
Hutter rides a horse and a coach in the Carpathian Mountains. He goes into an inn and asks for food because he is going to see Count Orlok. The innkeeper warns him about the werewolf in the woods. A maid shows Hutter his room. He looks out and sees horses running from the wolf. He picks up a book on vampires and reads about Nosferatu who “feeds on the blood of mankind.”
Hutter in bed wakes up, gets up, and looks out. He sees the horses coming back. He washes his face. He goes out and boards the coach again. At sunset they are traveling on a mountain road. The driver tells him they will not take him any farther because beyond the pass it is haunted. Hutter gets out and walks across a bridge. A coach with a frightening driver comes and picks him up. He is taken to a castle, and the coach leaves.
Hutter walks in the gate that closes behind him. Graf Orlok (Max Schreck) with dark circles around his eyes tells him that he kept him waiting. Inside Hutter dines while Orlok reads the document. Hutter sees the clock says midnight, and he cuts his finger. Orlok notices the blood and asks him to stay up at night with him because he sleeps during the day. Hutter sits down.
In the morning Hutter awakes in the chair alone and stretches. He picks up a mirror and looks at his throat. He sees food on the table and sits down to eat.
Hutter goes out for a walk and writes a letter to his beloved. He writes that mosquitoes have bitten him on the neck. His dreams are heavy. He sees a man on a horse.
That night Hutter shows Orlok papers. Orlok looks at a picture of his wife and says she has a beautiful neck. He says he will buy the deserted house next to his and signs a paper. Later in his room Hutter looks in the book and reads how Nosferatu uses his fangs to suck blood from his victim. His shadow may burden his dreams. He opens the door and sees Orlok. Hutter goes to his bed. The door comes open, and Orlok walks in. Hutter hides under the covers.
At that hour Ellen wakes up and goes out on the porch and walks on the fence. Harding sees her, takes her down, and calls for a doctor.
Orlok approaches Hutter while he is sleeping. At home Ellen is frightened and calls to her husband, reaching out. Orlok turns and walks out of the room. The doctor comforts Ellen, who falls back in bed.
Hutter wakes up and goes out his door, down stairs, opens a door, and finds a coffin in which Orlok is sleeping. Hutter is frightened and crawls up the stairs. From his room Hutter looks out the window and sees a man load coffins on a wagon and drive off. He calls to Ellen. Hutter ties sheets together and uses them to descend from his window. He sees a raft carrying the load of coffins.
In a hospital a doctor says that peasants brought him in. Hutter wakes and exclaims, “Coffins!” Professor Bulwer (John Gottowt) has studied Paracelsus and said that a schooner is taking coffins filled with earth. Men open a coffin and dump it out, revealing mice.
Professor Bulwer tells his students about carnivorous plants, and they see a Venus Fly-trap enclose a fly. He compares it to a vampire.
The doctor is told that the patient they brought in is raving mad. They go and see Knock, who says that blood is life. He tries to attack the doctor, and the other man restrains him.
Bulwer shows his students a creature that is like a phantom, and they study spiders. The doctor orders Knock’s hands tied.
Ellen sits by the sea and watches. At home the Hardings are playing croquet. They receive a letter and take it to the beach and give it to Ellen. She gives it back, and Harding’s sister reads it to her about the mosquitoes. Ellen runs off.
Hutter says he must go home by the shortest way. A ship sails at sea.
Knock reads a leaflet about the plague which has broken out in Transylvania and is affecting young people at Black Sea ports. Hutter is riding a horse.
On the ship the first mate tells the Captain (Max Nemetz) that a man has fallen sick. All the crew become sick and die. The Captain and his first mate throw the last body in the sea. The first mate picks up a hatchet and says he will go below. He chops a hole in a coffin, and rats come out. From another Orlok rises and lifts his hand. The first mate is terrified, goes on deck, and falls into the sea. The Captain lashes himself to the wheel. Orlok approaches him and takes over the ship of death.
Hutter has been riding the horse home. Ellen goes out on the patio. Harding’s sister wakes up and goes out to her. Ellen says he is coming, and she must go to him. She walks out. A coach stops, and a man gets out. Ellen runs through the yard. Knock climbs up to look out the window, and the ship arrives in the harbor. Knock says the master is near. Orlok comes up out of the hold. Knock attacks an attendant.
Orlok carries a coffin. Rats come out of the hold of the ship. Hutter walks quickly past houses and is greeted by Ellen outside their front door. He takes her inside and embraces her. Orlok arrives with the coffin at his deserted house.
On the ship men find the Captain dead by the wheel and no one else on board. Two men carry his body off the ship. Harding finds the logbook and reads it to the others. On the second day a sailor contracted a fever. On the tenth day they found rats in the hold. A doctor warns them all to go home and shut their doors and windows because of the plague.
On the street a man beats a drum and reads a proclamation about the spreading plague. A doctor comes out of a door and uses chalk to make a cross on the door. He marks other doors too.
Hutter warned Ellen not to touch the book, but she is fascinated by Nosferatu. She reads that a woman without sin can cause the vampire to forget the first cock crow by freely giving him her blood. Hutter comes in, and she points to the deserted house next door. She walks out. Hutter tells her that he will go and get Sievers.
In the street people carry coffins. Ellen reads the book again.
Knock is blamed because he killed the warder and ran out of the hospital. People decide he is the vampire and go after him. They run in the streets and see Knock on a roof. Knock comes down and runs off.
Ellen is working on her needle point. Knock runs out into the country. People search for him. Ellen wakes up and gets out of bed. She looks out the window and sees Orlok at his window. Hutter is asleep in a chair. She opens the window, and Orlok sees her and begins to walk. Hutter wakes up and puts Ellen back in bed. Then he runs out to get Bulwer. Orlok comes up the stairs, and Ellen stands up. She backs up and cringes as his shadow approaches.
Hutter wakes up Bulwer. An authority is told that Knock was caught.
Orlok is bending over Ellen by her bed when he hears the cock crow. Knock is back in his cell calling to his master. He climbs up to the window, and men pull him down. Orlok stands up and is attacked by the sunlight and falls. In his cells Knock is tied up with ropes and says his master is dead. Ellen wakes up and calls to her husband. He comes in to her, and she dies. At that time the Great Pestilence ceased.
This classic horror story is based on the terrible bubonic plague that rats on ships brought to Europe in 1347. The fear of this massive death is associated with the irrational fear of vampires that live at night on human blood. A pure woman is able to make a sacrifice that saves them, symbolizing what men want in a wife.