Release Date(s)1922 (November 12, 2013)
Studio(s)Jofa-Atelier Berlin-Johannisthal (Kino Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
There have been hundreds, probably thousands, of vampire movies since 1922 but there has never been another one quite like F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Even Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake can’t touch the eerie otherworldliness of the silent original. All these years later, Nosferatu still has the power to unsettle audiences and lodge nightmarish images into the mind’s eye. The film’s subtitle is appropriate. It truly is a symphony of horror.
Unofficially based on (as in, Murnau didn’t bother to get the rights to) Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the story is a familiar one. It’s Murnau’s command of the camera that sears it into the memory. It’s a dark, dreamlike telling that washes over you in waves, full of rich, evocative shadows. Of course, the central figure is Count Orlock, played unforgettably by Max Schreck, an actor with a name so perfect it’s astonishing that it wasn’t a stage name. Orlock’s bizarre, rat-like appearance is one of the most frightening makeups in movie history and the tall, slender Schreck is such an imposing figure that his presence is felt even when he’s not on screen.
If you want to introduce someone to silent cinema, start with either a comedy or a horror movie. Both fear and laughter are universal, timeless languages. Nosferatu provides a more subtle brand of horror than we’re used to today and it’s all the more effective for it. The movie isn’t overtly terrifying. It’s a chilling, disturbing nightmare that actually seems creepier in retrospect than it does while you’re watching it. Spoken dialogue would detract from the powerful images on screen. Whatever voice your imagination ascribes to Orlock is infinitely scarier than anything any actor could provide. Nosferatu is cinematic horror in its purest form.
Kino’s Blu-ray edition of Nosferatu is one of the most eagerly anticipated horror releases of the year and it’s well worth the wait. The film has been beautifully remastered in HD, providing the best, most cinematic home video presentation I’ve ever seen. It’s a first-rate transfer, on par with Kino’s magnificent Metropolis. The first disc offers the film with English intertitles, while the second disc includes the original German title cards with optional English subtitles. Both versions include Hans Erdmann’s original 1922 score, performed by the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, in both 5.1 DTS-HD surround and 2.0 stereo. It’s a wonderful score and it sounds great in 5.1. The extras are on the first disc, starting with the 2007 documentary The Language of Shadows. Clocking in at just under an hour, the film details Murnau’s early life and career before spending the bulk of its running time on the making of Nosferatu. It’s interesting and provides a lot of good information but it isn’t the most dynamic film ever made. The disc also includes excerpts from eight other Murnau films, including The Last Laugh, Faust and Tabu. Let’s hope these classics also find their way to Blu-ray soon. Finally, there is a promotional teaser and an image gallery.
Nosferatu is a timeless classic, as fresh and fascinating today as it was 90 years ago. In particular, it’s a high-water mark for the horror genre. It goes far beyond merely frightening audiences. It created indelible images of terror that are still instantly recognizable and part of our collective memory. It’s a film that proves that real horror never dies.
On behalf of all of us here at The Bits, Happy Halloween.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke
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