The film presents itself as a chronicle of the Great Death of Wisborg. It begins with a man named Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) picking flowers for his wife Ellen (Greta Schroeder) She remarks why have you killed the beautiful flowers? Hutter hugs his wife, laughing at her reaction. He soon leaves for work, when a passerby tells him, do not hurry, my young friend! Nobody can escape destiny.
An inter-title card reveals that Hutters employer is man named Knock (Alexander Granach). He has many rumors surrounding him, the only thing known for certain is that he pays well. Knock is reading in his office a letter covered in strange writing. He calls Hutter into his office and informs him that Count Orlok (Max Schreck) of Transylvania is looking to purchase a house in their small town.
He tells Hutter he could make a lot of money though it might require a bit of effort perhaps a bit of blood. Hutter examines a map of Europe while he considers the proposition and Knock takes another look at the letter from the Count. After a moment a thought occurs to Knock, he suggests Hutter sell Orlok the nice deserted house opposite Hutters own home. Knock tells him to travel quickly to the country of ghosts. Both men laugh as the scene fades to black.
Hutter rushes home to inform his wife of the exciting news. Ellen is disappointed her husband is leaving, but he is anxious to begin his journey. He packs a few belongings, leaving his wife with friends of the family, a rich ship owner named Harding (Georg H. Schnell) and his sister (Ruth Landshoff). Hutter kisses his wife to reassure her, then leaves for Transylvania. A title card tells us that Hutter travels many dusty roads to the Karpathen mountains.
He arrives at a tavern, still excited by his trip. He yells out for dinner before he continues on to Count Orloks castle. Upon hearing this, the crowd in the tavern react with shock and fear. They tell him he can't continue due to the werewolf stalking the forests at night. A wolf like creature scares many horses into bolting into the wilderness, so Hutter stays the night at the inn.
After being led to his room, Hutter closes the window and gets ready for bed when he notices a book on his nightstand. It is titled Of Vampires, Terrible Ghosts, Magic, and The Seven Deadly Sins. He reads a section on Nosferatu, terrible creatures that live in caves filled with soil from the fields of Black Death. Thinking nothing of it, Hutter goes to sleep.
The next morning Hutter wakes as shepherds are returning horses to their corrals. He again notices the book, but still thinks nothing of it and soon continues his journey. After traveling all day by carriage Hutter is yelling to the driver to hurry before the sun sets. The driver pulls over, telling Hutter he refuses to go any further, Hutter offers to pay him.
Undisturbed by the drivers cowardice, Hutter takes his gear and continues on foot. He crosses a small wooden bridge and comes to a deserted road. A moment later a carriage arrives with a sinister looking driver. The driver says nothing, but motions for Hutter to get in. After a cautious moment, Hutter gets in, and the carriage goes back the way it came.
They soon arrive at a ruined castle, and the driver motions for Hutter to go inside. Hutter walks toward the castle when the door appears to open by itself. With a bit of apprehension, Hutter enters the castle.
He is met by the same sinister figure, now revealed to be Count Orlok. Orlok informs him that he has waited too long, and all the servants have already gone to bed, so he leads Hutter inside himself.
A moment later the two men are sitting at a table. Hutter is eating as Orlok studies papers concerning his new real estate.
Hutter is watching Orlok so intently that he accidentally cuts his thumb while slicing bread, drawing blood. Orlok reacts immediately, eyeing the precious blood. Hutter begins to back away in fear, when Orlok proposes the two spend some time together talking, as it is several hours until dawn and Orlok must sleep during the day.
Hutter awakens the next morning to find the castle empty but a meal waiting for him. He takes a mirror out of his pocket and examines his neck where he can see two small marks.
After breakfast he examines the castle grounds, stopping to write a letter to his wife Ellen. He tells her not to be mad that her love is away, and attributes the marks on his neck to mosquitoes. He flags down a passerby to deliver his letter.
That night, Hutter is again sitting with Count Orlok. The Count is going over paperwork when he notices a portrait of Hutter's wife, which instantly catches his attention. He holds the picture remarking she has such a beautiful neck. He then informs Hutter that he will buy the beautiful deserted house opposite his own.
Later Hutter is in his room where he is reading more from his book. He reads an article concerning how the Nosferatu hunt and a warning not let their shadow burden your sleep. His bedroom door opens by itself to reveal Orlok who menacingly enters the room. As he does so, Ellen begins sleepwalking back in their hometown.
She wanders out onto her balcony where she almost falls off. When Orlok finally leaves Hutter, the door again moving on its own behind him, Ellen falls back to sleep.
The next morning Hutter decides to investigate the horrors of the castle. He finds a coffin in the basement, and further investigation reveals Orlok sleeping inside. Hutter leaves the basement in a state of horror.
That night he looks out his window to see Orlok loading a wagon with several coffins. After stacking the coffins, he climbs into the last one, the lid lifting onto the coffin by itself before the carriage drives itself away. Hutter, worried about his wife, ties several sheets together in an effort to escape out his window. He falls from his makeshift rope before reaching the bottom, and is knocked unconscious. Orlok continues his journey down the river via raft, the raftsmen unaware of their cargo. Hutter is found by a farmer and is brought to a hospital, where he is slowly recovering.