I bought "Nosferatu" on Halloween night, to screen a double-feature with "Shadow of the Vampire". This turned out to be a terrific idea and caused me to wish, for the first time since childhood and my array of Star Wars costumes, that Halloween came eleven or twelve times a year.
"Nosferatu" may be 80 years old, but its influence is, amusingly enough, going to be eternal. The "Symphony of Horror" special edition DVD is absolutely a must-have, with three audio tracks that basically create three different versions of the film, and with three excellent mini-features.
The basic audio track is an organ score derived from early-19th-century Romantic composers. Married to the film's flickering tinted images, this makes ideal Halloween (or, indeed, any post-midnight) viewing. The second audio score is more experimental, more modern, and much, much more fun. Whereas the organ track basically lies underneath the movie and provides a traditional (if static) experience, the "Silent Orchestra" compositions give the undead film a new life. This rock-jazz-classical track positively breathes in the way that Dracula never could.
The final audio track is the commentary by German film expert Lokke Heiss. Don't be fooled by the man's voice and delivery, which is about as dynamic as balsa wood and interesting as an American cheese sandwich on white bread. He cites both scholarly film treatises and Stephen King as he discusses Murnau's influences, the film's light-dark composition, and the use of mirrors and windows within the movie. This is a terrific commentary track in that it increased my understanding of the move ten-fold. Pity they couldn't have had someone with an actual voice (like Christopher Lee) read Mr. Heiss's words.
The featurettes range from cute to weird. Weirdest is the "Nosfera-Tour", ten minutes worth of home movies narrated once more by Heiss (oy vey) as he presents pictures of what the film's "Wisborg" looks like in the year 2000. The "Phantom Carriage Ride" is very eerie, spotlighting as it does one of the truly *bizarre* moments in the film. Finally, the art/photo gallery is splendid, one of the best galleries I've seen on a DVD. The real treasure comes at the beginnng -- the charcoal drawings that were producer Albin Grau's original renderings of Nosferatu.
The DVD packaging -- cardboard case with plastic snap -- may be cheap, but it contains within one of filmdom's finest moments, and provides far more than just 81 minutes of enjoyment. Highly, highly recommended.
on January 23, 2000
We are lucky to see "Nosferatu"; All copies were to be destroyed in 1923. "Nosferatu" was the product of plagerism, and an unlawful and (at the time) uncredited movie version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula". Stoker's widow sued the movie producers, they went out of business and the court ordered all copies of the film to be destroyed. Fortunately for us, copies were moused away and it is from these reels that we can see, what is considered the first horror film.
Nosferatu's horrific reputation is unchanged today; The sight of the vampire (Max Schreck) is every bit as grotesque now as it's ever been. The story is familiar Dracula, however the genesis of German film expressionism is clearly engrained; Nosferatu was one of a handful of films that changed the industry and made people think in ways that were never explored before.
The music score of this DVD is wonderful pipe-organ music composed from many early-19th century compositions. It's crafting completely compliments the story and adds not only tonal accuracy, but also a believable thread that brings us closer to the time of the film's creation.
But the unexpected hit of this DVD is the audio commentary track from Lokke Heiss, and expert on German films. Heiss's commentary is absolutely compelling and points out many similarities that the average viewer wouldn't easily pick out. In fact, I would recommend watching the movie with the organ score, and immediately watching it with the commentary so "see" all the parts you may have initially missed.
The DVD transfer is about as good as you can get, understanding that it all came from smuggled copies. The film is also 're-tinted', a film technique that provides different exposure colors to express changes is daytime or location.
I highly recommend this DVD to all silent fans, and anyone who wants to see a peice of history, as well as get an excellent historical and documentary analysis.
on October 13, 2002
Just when I thought I'd FINALLY owned the definitive version of "Nosferatu" (the 84-minute version from IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT), along comes this "AUTHORIZED" version from KINO. The running time: 93 minutes! Nearly 85% of the scenes are longer (by a few feet of film), creating a much smoother, atmospheric and tension-building vision that Murnau had originally planned. Some scenes are COMPLETELY new to me (after having owned over 12 different versions of the film--from 8mm, to VHS, and now to DVD!!) This KINO print has come from some archival Italian film museum, and is even sharper than the IMAGE version...and even more appropriately color-tinted--(Count Orlok walking the deck of the ship is now BLUE for NIGHT!--for those who were bothered by the mistakenly amber-tinted sequence on the IMAGE disc). Admittedly, this version actually gave me chills...for the first time!
Now: as for the musical score...the DVD will automatically leave the FIRST option as your "score of choice". GOOD. It's very well-composed...creating the perfect setting for each and every sequence. WARNING: Do NOT select option #2...not unless you want to experience the film with a COMPLETELY inappropriate soundtrack which sounds like a TECHNO-PUNK-HEAVY METAL-INDUSTRIAL MIXED-UP Mess!!--I can't describe it any other way. That being said, you will definitely NOT be disappointed with this "NEW & IMPROVED" release...and don't be mislead by the date of 1929 (that was the year in which "Nosferatu" hit the American shores).
on May 24, 2002
Filmed in 1922, the director F.W. Murnau set out to film an adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel Dracula. Although he couldn't get the rights to the novel, he pursued filming it anyway, changing the names of the characters and some of the plot points in the process. Stoker's widow sued the makers of Nosferatu for copyright infringement and won. All known prints of the film were destroyed as per the settlement. The German character actor Max Schreck played the vampire (now named Count Orlok) and was ready for international stardom. Since the film didn't make it to the theaters, fame eluded him in his lifetime.
Luckily years later, a print surfaced and the reputation of Nosferatu was restored. But why does it get such acclaim? A lot of viewers today find it old and dated, without the shocks and scares of modern gore-fests you currently see in the theaters and video stores. That's a shame because Nosferatu influenced a lot of those movies.
Modern viewers are more used to a "sexy" vampire. Since illicit sex is often the theme in vampire films, it makes more sense to be seduced by an attractive, exotic vampire. Count Orlok doesn't match that description in the least. He is repulsive-looking and resembles a rat.
And yet the underlying sex theme is still there. As it's pointed out on a DVD commentary, Count Orlok is the doppelgänger of Hutter, the male lead. Both vie for the attentions of Ellen. Though she is married to Hutter, she doesn't return his affections as strongly as he gives her. But to save the town, she gives herself freely to the vampire.
Of course, others see different themes in Nosferatu. Some view Count Orlok as a precursor to Hitler and the plague to Nazism, which would come a few years later. He even seems to give a Nazi salute as he dies.
And still others point out the many viewpoints through windows and the use of forbidding shots of nature, which show an influence of 19th century German painters like Caspar David Friedrich. Not to mention the equal influences of early 20th century German Expressionism with its use of stark shadows and unlit corners.
But you don't need to see any of that at first. You can enjoy it on its own merits as a very creepy horror film. One of my earliest memories of watching horror films was watching Nosferatu one October Saturday afternoon on TV. The scene where the vampire's shadow ascends the stairs on the way to his prey gave me nightmares for weeks and lingered in my memory until I saw it again twenty years later on video.
How ironic that Nosferatu is called A Symphony of Horror, when it's a silent film. But the audio tracks offered on the DVD from Image Entertainment do embellish the film well. Hitting the audio button on your DVD while the film plays will take you to your choice of three audio tracks recorded especially for this DVD. The first is a modern, quirky score by The Silent Orchestra. The second is a more traditional organ score by Timothy Howard. The third track is an illuminating commentary of the film by Lokke Heiss.
The goodies on the DVD don't stop there. The print itself has been remastered from high quality 35mm film and is restored to its original running time, as well as to its original color tints (although I think I preferred it in just black & white). A favorite feature of mine is the photo album of the locations used in Nosferatu as they appear in the film and how they look today.
on June 13, 2003
There are a number of versions of the original Murnau film "Nosferatu" floating around out there, and as a big fan of the film, I've bought most of them and will discuss them so that you don't have to waste time and money trying to decide which to buy. Unfortunately, I am only going to compare the current DVD releases however, and only those in my part of the globe - Region 1. By all means, avoid the embarrassingly bad VHS version with the modern score by "Type-O-Negative".
This is a black & white silent film for those who don't know. Sound wasn't invented for another five years after this film was made and color wasn't introduced for another ten to twelve after that. Bram Stoker's widow successfully had most copies of this film destroyed by infringement of copyright during the twenties, so the few existing prints today are sadly in poor condition. Most films in the silent era were color-tinted, and rarely viewed as pure black & white (so don't put all the blame on Ted Turner for starting that trend). As there was no soundtrack in those days, live orchestras performed the music behind the film. Today, if the original score is not known, (as is the case with Nosferatu), then we try and "fake it" with a modern composition recorded onto the cassette, laserdisc, or DVD. Some modern scores are fitting and appropriate, while others just stink (such as the Type-O-Negative score). The other problem with older films is that projectors weren't standardized yet, so people produced films at all sorts of different "running speeds". Today, all film is photographed at 24 frames a second, but back then it was 20, 18, 30, whatever...this is why many films of that era, when translated to present day film, run speedy like a bad episode of the "Keystone Cops".
Basically, there are only two DVD versions available that you should consider if you are at all serious about adding this legendary classic to your home collection.
First, there's the IMAGE Entertainment version, which has two musical scores: one score is kind of lame and silly, while the second organ score is the better of the two. The DVD in tinted brightly as well. The real gem on this version is an outstanding commentary soundtrack by a German film expert that is so educational.
Second, is the best version available, which is produced by Kino. This version has the sharper picture, a slightly better running speed and contains a few scenes not seen in other version (Kino's is also the longest running version available). The Kino version also comes with two scores. The first score is my favorite available and would be perfect if not for a few "vocal" improvisations of a woman gasping when the actress onscreen is scared. It's embarrassing and cheezy. The second score is a completely inappropriate "techno" version that sounds more like a cheap Nine-Inch-Nails rip-off and doesn't fit the film at all. (I don't understand why people insist on giving this film a modern musical score to emphasize it's horror aspects when all they do is demean it). The Kino version sadly does not have a commentary track or it would be perfect. The Kino version is also color-tinted. I would personally like to see a version without color-tinting as I just find that annoying.
But as of this date, June 2003, the Kino version of the original 1922 Nosferatu is the one to buy. But if you want the wonderful commentary soundtrack, then go with the IMAGE Entertainment version instead.
on October 27, 2003
Amazon is doing its customers a great disservice by mixing the reviews with this version of Nosferatu with those of the superior version. DO NOT buy the one with the tinted green picture of Nosferatu coming out of a coffin with the bloody pink font. This has horribly incorrect title cards, Count Orlock is referred to as Dracula and there appears to be missing scenes. Just a big waste of money. Don't get the cheapo version!
on April 2, 2001
The 2001 edition of this DVD from Image offers a vastly improved picture quality over the 1998 edition (which was made from a 1991 source). To me the difference is so great it is day and night. Where the picture was soft and contrasty in the '98 edition, it is now clear, sharp, and detailed in the 2001 edition. One good example is in the scene where the hero first discovers a bite mark on his neck; the mark (just a black dot) could barely be seen on the 1998 edition, but it shows up clearly on the improved picture of the 2001 edition. The 2001 edition is easily the best-looking version of the 1922 German silent classic and I doubt it could look any better. I envy those who haven't seen the film and will see it on this DVD for the first time.
A new, more modern-sounding music score is included along with the more gothic organ score from the '98 edition. Tinting has been modified in some shots; a scene on the beach is tinted in dull green instead of brown in the '98 edition. Many intertitle cards have been re-written -- they are now generally more verbose. Title cards representing reading material have also been re-designed with a more archaic-looking font, which might be harder to read for some.
The audio commentary is still here. The still-frame gallery section is expanded, and the stills, badly scanned in the '98 edition, were re-scanned in much better quality for the '01 edition, some of them in color. A new still-frame section, named "A Tour of Nosferatu", gives a "then-and-now" comparison of the many locations seen in the film. This is a clip of the "phantom carriage" scene shown in reverse black-and-white, showing that the carriage was actually cloaked in white when filmed.
on October 18, 2007
Now that it has been officially released in the U.S., there are no more ifs ands or buts. This edition of NOSFERATU is truly the ultimate restoration. If you want a sneek peak at how the film will look and sound go to the Kino International website and check it out. There is a three minute excerpt that shows how the restoration was done with before and after results. There is also a full length documentary as well as a first time recording of the 1921 Hans Erdmann score putting this edition of NOSFERATU in league with the work done on METROPOLIS and BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN.
NOSFERATU is one of the true landmarks of German silent cinema as well as the horror film itself. It has always been around in inferior copies from 16mm prints for years which attests to the film's importance but only recently have we been able to see it in something close to what Murnau intended. There are a few good versions out there now but be prepared to be blown away by this one. Proper colorization, correct film speed (18 frames per second), and the original orchestral score make this head and shoulders above the rest. And that's just the film!
Also included in this 2 disc set are a wealth of extras including the original German intertitles and excerpts from other Murnau films. Even non-silent film enthusiasts will want to get this one so order your copy now. For those of you who don't know, this is the original Dracula film and there has never been another one quite like it although Werner Herzog directed a 1979 remake with Klaus Kinski. Copyright infringements nearly destroyed it but like Dracula it has returned again and again in various forms until now when it can be seen and heard and enjoyed in all its glory.
on August 13, 2004
Out of the two reasonable options, I purchased the Kino version of "Nosferatu" over that of Image Entertainment. There is much to enjoy in the film, of course, which is the basis of my rating; such can not be said of the accompanying music. Two soundtracks are provided: 1) a mediocre synthesizer effort by Sosin, which stupidly incorporates some annoying, occasionally comical, sound effects; and 2) a worthless track of noise masquerading as music, wholely contemptible. I've wondered if I made the wrong choice. A couple of reviewers have suggested that the music on the IE version is even worse. I find that hard to believe, but if so, there must be a conspiracy at work. Interestingly, I own a CD of glorious music composed-- by the late, great James Bernard-- specifically for this film. I wonder why his score was not an option on either version?
on February 7, 2014
This is a review of the Kino Classics Deluxe Restored Blu-Ray.
I already owned the Image DVD of Nosferatu when I upgraded to the Kino Blu-Ray. Good choice. The Image disc had a fine restoration hampered by a slightly fuzzy image, fluctuating contrast, a soporific organ score (still superior to the chintzy-sounding synth score), and some smaller quirks that I found irritating (the shades used for tinting were a bit too vivid, the frame rate was a little too fast, and some of the scene transitions and intertitles appearing "digitized," for want of a better word).
This Blu-Ray is absolutely not a perfect presentation, but that has entirely to do with the degraded source materials, not the restoration or encoding. Visual imperfections abound - stretched frames, fluctuating brightness, assorted scratches - but it's obvious that immense care went into minimizing these distractions without detracting from the film itself. Overall, the picture is stunning, with fine details (set decor, facial expressions) and grand vistas (the mountain cinematography in the first act) given clarity that I've never encountered, with nicely balanced contrast and appropriate grain. The frame rate is corrected to a modern-day standard; the intertitles are stylish and easily read; and the tinting has pleasant, organic tones (similar to the Murnau Foundations equally excellent Nibelungen restoration). These factors count for a lot, since I'd say the "old-fashioned" appearance of silent movies (even more than the lack of sync-sound) is the greatest barrier to a present-day viewer.
Honestly, I would have bought a new copy of Nosferatu just for a more lively musical track, and the restoration of the original score is excellent, alternatingly grand and austere to compliment the action onscreen. It's not a long movie, but I've never been able to tear through it the way I did with this edition. The restoration truly enhances the viewing experience.
As for the movie itself, it's not my favorite silent movie (or my favorite vampire movie), but it's still captivating to watch, much more lively than its reputation suggests, and deserves the absolutely superb presentation it receives here.