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Special Edition

review by Anthony D.



Not Rated

Running Time: 90 minutes

Starring Max Schreck, John Gottowt,Alexander Granach,Ruth Landshoff, Greta Schröder,Gustav von Wangenheim

Written by Henrik Galeen

Directed by F. W. Murnau

Retail Price: $24.99

Studio: Image

Features: Commentary by film historian Lokke Heiss, Special Effects Scene Breakdown, NosferaTour; a comparison of location photography

Specs: 1.33:1 Standard Black and White, Dolby Digital 5.0, Dolby Digital 2.0

Forget Bela Lugosi. Forget Christopher Lee. Forget Reggie Nalder. Forget Frank Langella. Forget Gary Oldman. Prepare yourself for Max Schrenk, the original Count, in the seminal tale of Dracula: "Nosferatu." Max is the first film incarnation of Bram Stoker's legendary Count, and a more terrifying and moving rendering has yet to be filmed. Freely adapted from Stoker's novel (much to the anger of his widow), "Nosferatu" has only changed the names from Stoker's novel, but kept the principal plot the same. In 1838, in Bremen, a real estate agent, Hutter, leaves his young wife, Ellen, to conduct a business transaction for the Transylvanian Count Orlock. Orlock has been in touch with Hutter's employer, Knock in order to purchase the abandoned house across the street from the newlyweds. The correspondences between Orlock and Knock are missives written in a secret hieroglyph, not in any language known to man. Of course, Count Orlock is not just any man, he is "nosfertu:" the undead, who rises from his coffin nightly to feast on the blood of humans. This Count, like Stoker's Dracula, is also a shape-shifter, taking the form of hyena, and commanding obeisance from rats and other creatures of the night. Upon seeing a minature portrait of Hutter's beautiful wife, Orlock falls in love with her neck. The snake-like Orlock, standing ghoulish and ghastly as he towers above all others, drives young Hutter to the brink of madness, before taking his valuable coffins full of Tranvanian earth to the ship. Following Stoker's novel as an outline, Orlock commands Knock from afar to wait for his arrival. Orlock's arrival by boat is a harrowing sequence for any age, as he preys upon the hapless crew, leaving no survivors. A plague is believed to be the cause of the phantom ship's arrival, as townspeople also begin to fall under the spell of the nosferatu. According to ancient legend though, there is one simple cure for this specific plague: an innocent young woman must give herself freely to the vampire, keeping him off his guard until the sun rises with the crowing of the cock. Will Ellen be able to make the ultimate sacrifice for the community? If she does, will Bremen be safe again?

Although it is an highly unauthorized filming of the Stoker novel, certain aspects remain entirely faithful to the source: Knock substitutes as a mad, bug-devouring Renfield; the Count can hold sway over peoples' minds from far away; the villagers insist on warning young Hutter (the novel's Jonathon Harker) against travelling to the Count's castle, which like the novel is perched precariously on a mountain top near a secluded pass. Historically speaking, there is nothing equal to F. W. Murnau's brilliant study in horror, though. Image has delivered the goods with an intriguing package, fully restored, properly timed, with features rivaling any Criterion title just in time for the release of an independent film "Shadow of the Vampire," loosely based on the events surrounding the filming of "Nosferatu."


"Nosferatu" marks one of the few silent classics available on DVD at the proper framing and timing; presented full-frame, and running at eighteen frames per second, with subtle color tinting used throughout. Everything seems to be in perfect order, with such brilliant clarity that only the digital medium can provide. Shadows play a major role in the tale, and the level of blacks achieved (whether through the original camera work, or through the frame tinting) is to be commended. Though the film is still marred by age, there are no instances of artifacts that make it unbearable to watch, rather they only add to the vampiric experience. Title cards, newly written for this edition, are always legible, and linger on the screen long enough for the viewer to read. Shades of red, blue and amber enhance the pleasure of "Nosferatu,' and are used cautiously and with deliberation; never showing signs of bleeding or chroma noise.

While viewing "Nosferatu," I opted for the Dolby Digital 2.0 organ score, and I was very excited as my subwoofer constantly kicked in time and time again. The score is atmospheric and appropriate. There is a subtle use of sound cues, kept at a minimum, of which the tolling of a clock is highly memorable. The organ score is robust and well-placed across the front soundstage, though with the Dolby Digital encoded, the room is filled with music. (Another audio option is the Dolby Digital 5.1 track featuring the work of "The Silent Orchestra," billed as a jazz, new age and or/classical combo performing an impromptu newly commissioned score. Contemporary in tone, and bearing little resemblance to an actual film score, this track serves only those who are not interested in the historicity of silent cinema.)

"Nosferatu's" special features alone speak volumes. Starting of with a rather dry, though at all times, fascinating audio commentary by film historian, Lokke Heiss which gives the listener insight into the world of German Expressionism Film Makers and the production of "Nosferatu" including short biographical sketches of the major players. A short special effects scene is borken down for the viewer in another of the features, and a well-produced "NosferaTour" is a disc highlight, as it shows the film's locations in comparable present-day photographs, with narrative information. It boggles the mind to see these actual locations, still virtually unchanged after such a long passage of time, with the rare exceptions being those that fell victim to bombings in World War II and the sole street that is unrecognizable now due to urban growth and remodelling.

Film scholars as well as film fanatics will not be disappointed in purchasing this delightful package. "Nosferatu" has never looked this well on any previous video edition, and we should all hope to look this good when we reach "Nosferatu's age. It is an amazing feat that "Nosferatu" still exists in any way, shape or form, let alone be such a treat for the eyes and ears. I'm not a big fan of silent movies, having usually seen them running at the wrong amount of frames per second; but when screened properly "Nosferatu" manages to entertain in addition to be an historical document. "Nosferatu" has survived destruction, spanned nearly a century and has influenced many future film-makers. This is a stunning testament to the power of the medium of film, and though oft-imitated, this one proves that's there's life in the old boy yet.

(5/5, NOT included in final score)




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