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 May 17, 2006
I originally bought this simply for my intellectual appreciation for silent films, but I found that I truly enjoyed it. The primitive special effects add to the creepiness of this movie, such as the choppy stop-motion sequences in which a coffin lid moves itself into place, and the fast-forward way a horse and carriage moves through the woods. Also notable is the excellent organ music that adds a real ambiance. This is perfect for a classic halloween viewing. I abolutely loved it. My only complaint is that the guy on the directors cut has THE most boring voice. But all in all an excellent film
on April 22, 2004
This is the film that got me interested in silent films and it's still one of my most favourites. No matter how often I watch it, I'm always struck by the effectiveness of the film: the characters, make-up, movements and some special effects which, compared to modern films may seem very primitive and crude, but when used at the right time, however, create the perfect effect. There is also the simple matter of how Max Schreck, who plays the vampire, walks or stands, and being very tall and thin, wearing a sinister black coat, it's enough to already give you the creeps!
For novices to silent films I'd like to say that this film has much more depths that one might think, and you have to read the intertitles carefully to get the background or in-depth meanings that are intended. I got much more out of the film after the second and third viewing and paying attention to both the intertitles and other details, such as how Ellen was under Nosferatu's spell from a distance, and sensed when her husband was in mortal danger in Nosferatu's castle. There is also the interesting correlation between Nosferatu's presence and the Plague, and until science proved otherwise, people back then did believe that illnesses, especially a plague, were caused by evil, sinister beings.
For anyone who likes a film they can get their teeth into (pardon the pun) even if not a vampire/horror fan, this is a good one! And as far as silent films go, definitely also in the "classics" department and a must-have in your collection.
on May 24, 2004
It always surprises me when I suddenly notice there are horror films I should have seen years ago but am only seeing for the first time now. F.W. Murnau's 1922 classic take on the vampire legend, "Nosferatu" is one of these films. What horror film fan would not take some time to watch this legendary creation? Well, me for one. I put it off for years due to my general dislike of the vampire sub genre. You can only take so many debonair duffers tooling around a castle sinking their fangs into the throats of girls before you give up in frustration. A few vampire films I like, such as "Fright Night," but as a general rule I can leave them more often than I can take them. It only took a few minutes of "Nosferatu" to discover this film wasn't going to be the type of vampire film I am used to seeing. You won't see a Frank Langella or Christopher Lee type playing the lead bloodsucker in this disturbing movie. One look at the hideous visage on the DVD cover provides ample evidence that the vampire in this movie won't wow the ladies with his good looks or suave charm. The vampire in "Nosferatu" is exactly how a vampire should look.
Set in Germany back in the nineteenth century, "Nosferatu" tells the horrific tale of an entire town stricken by the evil machinations of the rat-like Count Orlok, a truly sinister figure both loathsome and repellent. After a real estate agent named Knock sells the count his property, he falls under the spell of its gruesome tenant. The agent wants Orlok to come to Bremen, so he sends his assistant Hutter out to the castle. Harker's virginal wife Ellen objects to the sudden departure of her husband, but knows he must fulfill the obligations of his job. The scenes involving the trip to Orlok's pad and Hutter's subsequent stay are masterpieces of ominous foreshadowing. Animals bolt in panic as the coach nears the castle, the villagers fall silent when Hutter mentions Orlok, and his driver adamantly refuses to take the assistant to the castle. The count sends his own coach, an unusual device that moves supernaturally thanks to Murnau's use of fast motion photography. Obviously, strange things are afoot even before the vampire goes on his rampage.
Hutter falls prey to Orlok during his stay at the castle, but manages to escape and head back to Bremen to warn the town. His wife, in the meantime, suffers strange dreams and hallucinations that foreshadow her own encounter with the vampire. Knock goes off his rocker, and is institutionalized at the local jail. As for Orlok, he boards a vessel and heads to Bremen and a meeting with Hutter's virgin bride. The scenes on the ship are masterfully chilly. The count hides in a coffin in the hold of the ship, rising to feast on the unwary sailors. His movements on the boat, often accompanied by dozens of rats, nauseates even as it fascinates the viewer. By the time the movie reached this point, I couldn't think of a horror film character more hideous or repulsive than Orlok. When the ship reaches port, doctors fear a plague has killed the crew. They are partially right. A plague has reached town, but one these doctors have never seen before. Before long, townspeople start to drop like flies as Orlok pounds the cobblestones at night looking for Hutter's wife. The conclusion to the film involves no stakes, no holy water or crucifixes, but a good old fashioned German girl using her purity to destroy evil. I'll leave it you to see how she does it.
"Nosferatu" is a classic because a perceptive viewer can see so many themes in it. Is it a movie about sexuality, or Weimer politics, or a foreshadowing of the National Socialists? I'd like to promote a view of the movie I haven't seen yet (although it may be out there somewhere). I couldn't help but see a lot of potential anti-Semitic themes playing out in the movie. Orlok's physical presence resembles in no small way the depictions of Jews that often appeared in Germany even before the Third Reich rose to power. Associating the count with rats and plague is similar to how the Jews were portrayed in notorious anti-Semitic propaganda. I think, too, that the encrypted letter the count sent to Knock underscored what many Germans thought about Jews, that they communicated in esoteric languages and practiced a strange religion. Orlok, when he arrives in Germany, is an outsider, a dangerous foreigner seeking to kill and corrupt the good German people. Again, the Jews were always seen as outsiders with a hidden hostility to gentiles. The conclusion of the film only confirmed this thesis in my eyes, when a pure German woman using her wiles managed to defeat the evil count. Germans always worried about Jews marrying their women, so the idea that a girl could not only withstand the advances of the count but also use his lust to destroy him must have resonated deeply with certain segments of the audience. I could go on and on, matching certain scenes with how many Germans perceived the Jews.
I hope the film isn't anti-Semitic. But as a horror film, it is unmatched. Murnau's technical experimentation along with Max Schreck's portrayal of Orlok make this film a must see for horror fans. The DVD is good too, with a ton of extras. You get extensive liner notes on location sights, notes on Murnau's influences, still galleries, several different soundtracks, and a commentary track from a film historian. The quality of the picture transfer didn't look too good, but the movie is over eighty years old. If you haven't seen "Nosferatu" yet, you're missing out on a great experience.
on March 15, 2004
Teutonic glory, theology, and spirituality come together in a brilliant silent black and white cinematographic feast in director F.W. Murnau's 1929 American release of Nosferatu. Thirteen minutes shorter than the original German release seven years earlier, the United States edition titillates with sexuality, political metaphors and supernatural evil.
The film parallels Bram Stoker's Dracula, a popular and provocative book released in Nineteenth Century Victorian Britain. Due to copy right concerns Henrik Galeen re-wrote the basic plot making Dracula into Count Orlok (Max Schreck) who purchases property in Wisborg, Germany, not England as in the novel.
At the time of the film's release it spooked American movie goers with sensual evil. Yet hindsight suggests that Germans were also given a political message. In post World War I the defeated country was forced to pay oppressive reparations making malnutrition, political chaos, and personal bankruptcy common. Nosferatu depicts the greed of victorious France, Britain, and the United States in the form of Count Orlok. Plague infested rats are associated with the vampire invading a "virgin" territory.
The virgin (Greta Schroder) is wife of the happy-go-lucky imbecile real estate agent (Alexander Granach) who sold the Count his property. The real estate agent's wife, whom Orlok becomes obsessed with, is a "sinless maiden." There is an implication that the marriage was never consummated. The husband represents the inept post-war German government that allowed the country to be defiled by foreign "rats." She has premonitions of the pending darkness on its way to Wisborg. There is a fatal inevitability of what must be done. She eventually martyrs herself for the greater good by submitting to the vampire's lust.
A predestination theme weaves its way throughout the film. "Do not hurry my friend," the real estate agent is told by a town official earlier as he prepares to meet Count Orlok. "No one can escape his destiny."
Do any of us actually have free choice in the final analysis? Doesn't God know all there is about our life before we are even conceived? Hence, is it a false illusion to think that choices can actually influence the final outcome? Did the martyred virgin have a choice or was it her destiny? Often we think to ourselves that "things happen for a reason" suggesting that certain things are indeed beyond our control.
Orlok's prolonged feeding on the virgin one evening makes him lose track of time. The morning sun - like the early raise of Easter Sunday - destroys him. Germany is offered a re-birth. Ironically, there is no foretelling of the new monster named Hitler that would soon arrive on Germain soil. Is death, re-birth, and death again that leads to a higher form of re-birth all necessary in the universal order of things and, hence, preordained?
Unlike Stoker's novel, there isn't an overt use of crosses, holy water, or the Eucharist to assist in killing Nosferatu. Instead, a woman's purity is used to lure and kill the creature. There is one subtle, but important religious reference. The real estate agent, prior to selling the vampire a castle, stays overnight at an inn. In his room is an icon of the Blessed Mother and a lit, hanging vigil candle before it. It's a powerful symbol that frames the entire film.
Over time, Marian images, sightings, and devotionals have increasingly interested me. In the Eastern Rite, Mary is often called upon as an intercessor of our souls. In the film there is a clear draw on the Marian cult. The film's virgin must be the intercessor for her community. Similar to Mary, the virgin, a Teutonic like Valkyrie, is both intercessor and preordained to make a sacrifice - the former her son the latter her life. This is an important theological theme, independent of eerie, stunning cinematography, that remains most memorable in the film.
on February 9, 2004
Loosely based on Bram Stoker's "Dracula" novel, "Nosferatu" is one of the earliest vampire movies ever made. Directed by F.W. Murnau at the height of the German Expressionist movement, this film is an eerie time capsule that introduced audiences to stage actor Max Schreck, who stars as the ghastly Count himself. Bearing a bone-white complexion, sunken eyes, rodent ears, and a sharp chin, Schreck's version of Dracula leers with the hunger and claws of a predatory animal. Indeed, Max's version of the character is unique, for future actors like Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee portrayed the vampire as an rich and attractive man, not as a pallid gargoyle.
Set in the lush streets of Bremen, the story of "Nosferatu" is told from a historian's diary written in 1838. It all starts when Johnathan Harker (Gustav von Wangenheim) is offered a golden opportunity. He works as a clark to his estate agent, Reinfield (Alexander Granach), a crazed old man who sports a toothy grin. Obviously tormented by the vampire's curse, Reinfield convinces Johnathan to have the aristocrat purchase a house in the village. To make things more interesting, that property would be right across the street from where Johnathan and his wife Nina (Greta Schroeder) live. Shortly after, the excited young man travels to Transylvania, despite the fact that Nina is concerned about his abrupt decision. Soon, the audience is led into the Count's cold castle, where Nosferatu slowly terrorizes Johnathan by sampling blood from his jugular vein. All the while, Nina is connected to her love by unseen nightmares, sleepwalking and calling out his name. Realizing the true horror of the situation, both she and Johnathan are determined to escape Dracula's supernatural trap. Later on, poor Reinfield is locked up in an insane asylum and Nosferatu comes to Bremen by hiding in the "Demeter" vessel, where his coffin lies among several boxes of unhallowed earth and diseased rats. Throughout the trip, the ship's crew members are quickly drained of their blood and mistaken by doctors as victims of the plague. Eventually, it's Nina who willfully offers her throat to the vampire, sacrificing herself in a final attempt to save her husband.
Although this movie somewhat lacks its spine-tingling suspense, viewers will still be impressed by F.A. Wagner's early experimentation with photo negativity and stop-motion animation. The latter of the two gives several chilling illusions of the vampire's power. The Count can appear and disappear at will and force doors to open and close unaided. In the end of the film, he vanishes in the sunlight. It must also be noted that some of the camera shots seem to make Max Schreck's character bigger and stronger than he really is. In the one scene when the vampire walks through an arched doorway, he suddenly looks like an 8-foot-tall giant! Indeed, such simple cinematic tricks were astounding achievements back in the 1920's. Other important moments happen when Johnathan rests in an inn; as he starts reading the pages of the Book of Vampires, the film repeatedly cuts to stock footage of horses running out of a field and a ravenous hyena climbing down a hill. Such scenes provide an omen that was commonly used since the works of Shakespeare; beasts sense a danger that's ignored by men.
If you are interested in early cinematic horror, I recommend you purchase this DVD as well as "Phantom of the Opera" and "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."
on May 19, 2003
I've seen this film a number of times on the big screen but not on VHS or DVD, so can't comment on the quality of any of these "at-home" releases, although I'm familiar with the very fine work done by Kino in restoring and releasing classsic films, and so will purchase theirs when I finally do buy (a class act all the way, they and Criterion are the way to go if you can spend more on your collection). This is a great film, and there's little I can add to the other reviews posted.
However, I should point out to some previous reviewers--as well as for the benefit of future viewers/purchasers--that the tinting of certain scenes is NOT a gimmick devised by contemporary video producers.
To the best of my knowledge, this film was, if not initially then very soon afterward, released with specific scenes tinted in order to lend atmosphere (I not only remember reading this, but have yet to view an untinted print). Tinting of negatives, while not the rule of thumb, was not an uncommon practice during the early days of motion pictures; Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera is a case in point (although I think its color segments might have been early Technicolor), and I believe Griffith's Broken Blossoms also has tinted scenes. As a matter of fact, Turner Classic Movies occasionally runs a lovely montage of the first 100 years of film that opens and closes with hand-tinted silent footage. So rest assured that if the Nosferatu you purchase is tinted, you're seeing what Murnau intended you to see, although I can't guarantee that the tints you'll see are the "correct" ones (depending on whose release you purchase). Regardless, I can't imagine anyone's not enjoying this film--it's a must-see!
Incidentally and for what it's worth, I also love Herzog's remake--comparing the two represents a delightful use of viewing time.
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 June 6, 2004
Of course this is a haunting film, certainly on everyone's short list of the greatest silent films in history. But which version to buy?
The Alpha Video DVD, like all of their silent DVDs, has an appallingly poor video transfer. You can watch it, but you wouldn't want to if you didn't have to. It seems like all of Alpha's old films are too dark on the left, and too bright on the right. When a character wanders to the left of the screen, he disappears, when he goes to the right, he is almost washed out. Intertitles can only be read clearly from the middle to the right margin. All the figures are grainy, like you need to adjust the sharpness, but can't. I could only recommend a Alpha Video silent DVD if absolutely no other option is available. I am a cheap guy who loves a good deal, but I think Amazon should seriously consider whether or not to even sell their shoddy products.
The Image Entertainment has by far the best looking cover and artwork, as I find they do for most of their products (compare their cover for The Thief of Baghdad with Kino's). But the soundtrack options are quite poor on Nosferatu, and are nearly as distracting to a proper enjoyment of the film as Alpha Video's terrible image quality.
The current winner for Nosferatu is certainly the Kino version. The image quality equals the Image Entertainment version, but the music is much better. Its not a long shot, however, as the cover art is inferior to Image's. And I still agree with the reviewer who wrote that all of these versions are running too fast. IMDB lists the running time as 94 minutes, but all of three of these versions clock in just over 80 minutes (10% too fast?).
on March 13, 2004
"Nosferatu" is simply a trademark for all vampire films. It's also faithful to the story (well at least the first 3rd of it) by Bram Stroker. When most people think of the first film adaptation of "Dracula," most of them think of Tod Browning's 1931 film. Even though the 1931 version is also one of my faves, I can't say I liked it better than "Nosferatu." The costume design for Max Schreck is brilliant. He doesn't take the erotic vampire attitude and look by Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi, he looks like a rat with the side-by-side fangs, rat ears, a skeletal frame, and a bald, clean-shaven skull to top horror off. No vampire film can match this one. It is simply the original. Favorite Horror Films: 3) THE SHINING 2) NOSFERATU 1) PSYCHO