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review added: 1/31/01

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Nosferatu: Special Edition (Image)

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
Special Edition - 1922 (2001) - Blackhawk Films (Image)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/A

Specs and Features

81 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, audio essay by Lokke Heiss, The Nosferatu Tour (then-and-now photographic comparisons of filming locations with commentary by Lokke Heiss), deconstruction of the carriage ride sequence, photo gallery of concept art and inspirational paintings with production notes, original organ score by Timothy Howard, newly-composed score by The Silent Film Orchestra, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (12 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.0 Silent Film Orchestra score & 2.0 organ score), subtitles: none

Nosferatu (1997 - original Image)

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
1922 (1997) - Blackhawk Films (Image)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/B

Specs and Features

81 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, audio essay by Lokke Heiss, photo gallery of concept art and inspirational paintings with production notes, newly composed organ score by Timothy Howard, film-themed menu screens, scene access (10 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror - the most significant horror film in the history of cinema. No other horror film has been more analyzed, copied or praised. F.W. Murnau's 1922 silent masterpiece is a study of terror, with its cryptic imagery and frightening intelligence. Enigmatic German actor Max Schreck (whose name literally means "fear" in German) not only portrays Count Orlok (a.k.a. Count Dracula) in this film, but has forever burnt into our collective subconscious a vision of utter terror, with his long, pale face, pointed ears and spider-like fingers.

I won't bother explaining the plot of 1922's Nosferatu because almost everyone out there is familiar with the traditional story of Dracula. This film is a bit different technically, because Murnau could not secure the rights from Bram Stoker's estate to create a movie based on the novel. What Murnau changed are the names of the characters and the location of the story (from London to Wisbog, Germany). After the film was finished, Stoker's widow sued the producers of the film, and the settlement stipulated that all copies of the film were to be destroyed. Luckily, several private copies survived - one was even rumored to belong to Dracula himself: Bela Lugosi.

On the surface, Nosferatu seems to be a very straightforward vampire film, with all the requisite characters and events. However, Murnau constructed a poetic tale overflowing with intelligence and symbolism. Everything from camera angles to set architecture to dialog has some hidden meaning that adds to the mystery and psychology of the movie. Murnau's consummate dedication to artistry and experimentation are present in every frame of this film, and will be studied and talked about as long as the world possess the cinema as an art form.

Image Entertainment, in association with Blackhawk Films, has released two versions of this film on DVD - one in 1997 (which is now out of print) and a brand new special edition. The new edition of Nosferatu has been restored and mastered from 35mm archival material. Most importantly, the color tinting has been fully restored, along with the correct playback speed. The color tinting is important to the film, because different colors are meant to signify things like time of day and candlelight ambiance. The playback speed being corrected gives the action a more human pace; not fast and erratic like that of a Keystone Cops short. The image quality is outstanding given the rather abysmal condition of the original source print. Sure, there are a lot of scratches and blemishes, but this is a 79-year-old film that was probably never stored correctly to begin with. Given the circumstances, the picture looks quite good. The inter-title cards are brand new, but their newness is not distracting.

In comparison to the old Image release of Nosferatu, the layman's eye will not notice too much of a difference. The overall look of the new edition's picture quality is much cleaner. Preservationist David Shepard (who also restored the original edition) has corrected much of the "off" framing from the first edition. Since this is a new transfer, it's just going to look better, given the technical leaps the format has undergone since its inception. But given that all versions of this film in existence go back to the same "parent" print, you'll really have to pay attention to see the changes in the video quality on this new DVD (but they are there). Where you will see the biggest difference between these two discs, however, is with the audio and extra features.

There are two audio choices on this new special edition. The first is the same recording of the original organ score that accompanied the original DVD, compiled and performed by Timothy Howard. It's presented here in Dolby Digital 2.0 and it sounds grand, boasting great fidelity and range, with some very deep registers that will put your subwoofer to the test. The second audio option is a newly composed and performed score by The Silent Film Orchestra, presented in Dolby Digital 5.0. This score is well recorded, with a crisp and clean character. Unfortunately, The Silent Film Orchestra score is just plain silly. At times, it sounds like music from The Wonder Years and, other times, it sounds like really bad new age music. The composition uses too many clichés and seems out of place with the tone of the film. Stick with the classic organ score - it's eerier and truer to the original creative vision.

But that's not the only difference between these two discs. New materials have been added to make this a special edition. Nosferatu isn't loaded with extras, but what Image has included are rich features that are well worth your time. The disc includes an audio essay, by Lokke Heiss, that makes its return from the original release. It runs over the film like a commentary, but is not always screen-specific. Heiss is obviously reading the text, and he's not the most exciting person to listen to, but the information he provides really helps to enhance the enjoyment of the film. Heiss discusses the history of the film, and explains a lot of the subtleties of Murnau's creativity. Definitely give it a listen. Next up is a brand new extra - The Nosferatu Tour, which is a 10-minute "then-and-now" photographic tour of the locations used by Murnau to shoot the film. We are shown the locations first as stills from the film, and then in modern day photographs to compare them over the years. All the while, Heiss discusses bits of relevant trivia. It goes well as a continuation of the audio commentary. The next new feature is a brief deconstruction of the carriage ride to the castle from the film, which highlights one of Murnau's unusual methods of filmmaking. Rounding out the supplements is a large gallery of conceptual art and poster advertising created by the film's producer and art director Albin Grau, along with a large collection of early 19th century paintings that inspired Murnau's vision. And peppered throughout the art are production notes. This last extra was also a holdover from the original edition.

Any self-respecting film buff owes it to themselves to make Nosferatu a part of his or her DVD library. It's an intelligent, haunting piece of art, that's worthy of study and discussion. The audio and video quality of the new special edition is about as good as it will ever get. And if you think quality over quantity when it comes to the extras, you should be very happy. This new edition comes very highly recommended from your friends here at The Bits.

Greg Suarez
[email protected]

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (Special Edition)

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