“Nosferatu” has the distinction of being the original theatrical telling of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” The film is widely regarded as one of the great films of the silent era and true cinematic classic. It has not always been so highly regarded. Only a few years after Bram Stoker finished his novel, director F.W. Murnau decided to adapt it to film. This decision was made without securing any rights from Stoker to make the film. Instead, Murnau changed the names of the characters and locations contained in the story. He did, however, remain fairly true to the tale. This eventually outraged the Stoker estate and all copies of the ‘illegal’ film were ordered destroyed. A few less than pristine copies of the film survived. Nearly eighty years later, and the film has been restored from these surviving elements to offer what may be the best look at the picture since it was first released.
The style and look of “Nosferatu” is what makes this film special. The single most powerful stylistic piece of Murnau’s film is its star, Max Shreck. Shreck portrays Count Orlock and is easily the most intriguing looking vampire to hit the silver screen. Instead of looking like a nobleman, Murnau made Shreck more rat-like, with a pointy nose, ears and claw-like hands. The performance by Shreck is simply amazing. His appearance is enough to send chills down most viewers’ spines. The pure appearance by Shreck brought about folklore that stated he was an actual vampire and this has recently been featured in the film “Shadow of the Vampire.”
Shreck is not the only visual treat in “Nosferatu.” The gothic scenery and wonderful sets chosen by Murnau are perfectly matched to the story and help set the tone, which is a very important part of a silent film. Some of the special effects are noteworthy as well. A chariot ride to Count Orlock’s castle and his famous scene of rising from his coffin are noteworthy scenes featuring special effects. This DVD is the restored version of the film and also features corrected color tinting and has fixed the pace of some sequences. These restored changes strengthen an already great film and perhaps for the first time in decades the film can be fully appreciated for its visual style and eerie tone.
This remastered version of the film has some new elements added as well. Since this is a silent film, inter-title cards are used to help the viewer along and supply dialog. These cards were newly created for this DVD release. They have been ‘blended in’ nicely and do not stand out from the rest of the film. Compared to the previous release on DVD, they are much nicer and a great deal cleaner. The second addition is that of a new soundtrack. The Silent Orchestra has created a new 5.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack. This new soundtrack contains New Age music and was intended to make “Nosferatu” accessible to a broader audience. Of course, the older organ music is included on a separate audio channel for purists.
The two channels both sound incredible. They are crystal clear and utilize both the high end of the spectrum and resonate truly deep bass. The new sound track is mastered in 5.0 Dolby Digital surround. It is noticeably the newer recording between the two soundtracks and easily the more active of the two. Even though it is sonically superior to the Timothy Howard organ track, it is not as pleasing when meshed together with the film. The organ track is mastered in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. It has deeper and stronger bass than the Silent Orchestra mix. The greatest accomplishment of the organ mix has to do more with context than sonic quality. It fits “Nosferatu” like a glove. The organ track is more or less how the film should sound and offers a better overall experience. Film buffs will appreciate the stereo mix much more than the multi-channel surround mix.
Even though the sound is absolutely crystal clear and flawless, the picture quality proclaims the age of the film. Yes, the film is eighty years old. Early in its existence, most pristine prints were destroyed. Fortunately, some pirated prints survived and many years later surfaced. There is probably not a single high-quality master left in existence and this remaster was pieced together from various sources (according to the commentary). When compared to previous releases of “Nosferatu,” this ‘remaster’ is gorgeous. There is a plethora of flaws in the source materials. Scratches, dirt and other miscellaneous marks are plentiful. Film grain is not hard to spot. But when compared to other releases of the film, this is just amazing. Detail is very good. The blacks are solid, deep and accurate. Restoration work like this is usually seen only on Criterion releases. The picture is extremely commendable for the age of the film.
Image has supplied some rather nice supplements that highlight the history of the film. Much of the supplemental material involves film historian Lokke Heiss. The first feature that involves Mr. Heiss is an audio essay on the film. It overlays the film as a running commentary would. Unfortunately, this track is not entirely screen specific and there are lapses during its recording in an attempt to space things out. Mr. Heiss is not the most entertaining speaker either. He is either a heavily monotone person or reading. None-the-less, he is very knowledgeable and the audio essay is extremely informative. Heiss also is involved in a new supplement called the Nosferatu Tour. This little featurette shows scenes from the film and then that shooting location as it looks now. Heiss gives the history for each scene and some splendid background information. This is the most entertaining of the supplements and another very informative piece. Heiss is also involved in a very short featurette on the Phantom Carriage Ride. The scene is broken down into the technical details of how this shot was achieved. Returning from the previous “Nosferatu” edition to complete the supplements is a still gallery that contains production stills, original artwork and advertising materials. This still gallery contains notes on many of the stills and provides further information on the production of the film.
As a film, “Nosferatu” is a great example of beautiful filmmaking. Murnau has a perfect sense of using visuals to create the mood of the scene. Every archway, building and costume were carefully chosen by Murnau and each piece of the film fits together to offer a gothic world rarely seen. “Nosferatu” is a heavily studied film and it does not take very long before you can understand why. It is a marvelous picture that has stood the test of time and is just as meaningful now as it was eighty years ago. Image has remastered the film for this DVD and this is the absolute best presentation of “Nosferatu” since the Stoker clan had most of the original prints destroyed. For a film this old, with its history, you really can’t ask for more.