DVD Review: Nosferatu (1922)
Nosferatu - one of the most famous horror movies of all time and featuring one (if not more) of the most iconic scenes in film history. But how many people have actually sat through the entire movie? Less than you might think, not least because a definitive version of F.W. Murnau's silent classic hasn't been available to buy. Until now that is.
The two-disc release of Nosferatu by Eureka, as part of its Masters of Cinema series, is pretty much as definitive as any release can be, featuring a fully-restored version of the movie, the original score by Hans Erdmann, a full-length commentary, a detailed documentary on both the movie and Murnau and an equally-exhaustive 80-page book. More on these additions later.
The film itself loosely follows Bram Stoker's Dracula novel, carefully avoiding any direct references, but with enough similarity for Bram Stoker's widow to successfully sue the Prana company and insist all copies were destroyed. Thankfully for us, numerous copies of the movie had already been distributed - with this restored release based on a French archive print from 1922, with other prints used to fill in the gaps. Missing storyboards have also been recreated using the same font as the original movie. Which means for the first time in over 80 years, we can sit back and watch what the director intended.
As with all silent movies, Nosferatu requires both time and effort - but it is time well spent. The plot revolves around a real estate employee (or estate agent if you prefer) in Wismar called Hutter, who works for the sinister Knock. Knock receives a mysterious letter from a Count Orlok, who is looking to buy a house in the area - and Hutter is despatched to the Carpathian Mountains to seal the deal. Hutter is discouraged from visiting the castle by the locals and by the hellish tales in a copy of The Book Of The Vampires he finds in his room at a nearby inn, but chooses to ignore these warnings, heading off on foot to Orlok's home at first light.
Orlok welcomes his guest, feeds him and signs for the house in Wismar. But before long, Hutter realises Orlok isn't just an old eccentric - finding him in a coffin, he realises that the warnings were right - Orlok is a vampire. With the house sale agreed, Orlok heads to Wismar, armed with coffins full of plague-ridden rats. Hutter attempts to stop him, but knocks himself unconscious escaping the castle. The plague hits Wismar and Orlok is able to go about his evil business behind the distraction of that plague - until Hutter's wife Ellen finds the 'Vampire' book and a way of stopping him.
I have lost count of the number of vampire flicks I've seen over the years, but for me, Nosferatu is still the most menacing and sinister of them all. No stylised blood-letting, no smart suits and slick-back hair, no women falling at his feet - just a grotesque monster with a desire to bring evil and suffering to the world. And despite its age and its relatively frugal budget, Nosferatu is also one of the most striking vampire movies you will ever see, thanks to impressive camera work for the era, well-chosen locations (many of which are still standing today), a solid storyline and strong character portrayals, not least by Max Schreck as Orlok. And that Erdmann score only adds to the atmosphere.
In fact, if you want to know more about the lead-up to the film, its locations and about Murnau's early career, the excellent 'Language Of Shadows' documentary featured here is pretty much essential viewing. And if that's not enough, the included booklet should give you enough knowledge of the film to sit an exam.
Copies of Nosferatu have floated around the public domain for years, but none are complete and the majority are of very poor quality both in terms of picture and sound quality. A film of this importance deserves more and it gets more with this release. If you have any interest in horror, European cinema, expressionism or just film history, this is a DVD that should be in your collection.
Extras on the DVD:
Film with or without subtitles
5.1 surround sound option
The Language Of Shadows documentary
80-page book on the movie and its restoration