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Nosferatu (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 14, 2013 by  



nosferatu

This F.W. Murnau German Expressionist horror film is a classic and for any fans of silent film on Blu-ray, “Nosferatu” is a Blu-ray release worth owning!  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Kino Lorber, Inc. 2007 Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stifftung, Wiesbaden. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Nosferatu

FILM RELEASE: 1922

DURATION: 95 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio, Color Tinted,  DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0 Stereo

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber Incorporated

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: November 12, 2013

Directed by F.W. Murnau

Screenplay by Henrik Galeen

Produced by Enrico Dieckmann, Albin Grau

Music by Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Berndt Heller

Cinematography by Fritz Arno Wagner

Costume Design by Albin Grau

Art Department: Albin Grau

Starring:

Max Schreck as Graf Orlok/Nosferatu

Gustav von Wangenheim as Hutter

Greta Schroder as Ellen Hutter

Alexander Granach as Kock – ein Hausermakler

An unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu is the quintessential silent vampire film, crafted by legendary German director F. W. Murnau (Sunrise, Faust, The Last Laugh). Rather than depicting Dracula as a shape-shifting monster or debonair gentleman, Murnau’s Graf Orlok (as portrayed by Max Schreck) is a nightmarish, spidery creature of bulbous head and taloned claws — perhaps the most genuinely disturbing incarnation of vampirism yet envisioned. Nosferatu was an atypical expressionist film in that much of it was shot on location. While directors such as Lang and Lubitsch built vast forests and entire towns within the studio, Nosferatu’s landscapes, villages and castle were actual locations in the Carpathian Mountains. Murnau was thus able to infuse the story with the subtle tones of nature: both pure and fresh as well as twisted and sinister. Remastered in high definition for the first time and making its Blu-ray debut exclusively from Kino Classics.

Back in 1921, filmmaker F.W. Murnau, known for his German Expressionist films such as  the “The Haunted Castle”, “Desire” and “The Dark Road”, began work on an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” titled “Nosferatu” along with writer Henrik Galeen (“The Golem”, “The Man Who Cheated Life”).

Because the studio, Prana Film, was not able to obtain the rights to the novel, names were changed.  So, a reference to a vampire became a reference to “Nosferatu” and instead of Count Dracula, you have Count Orlock.  And production began for the studio’s first film that would be part of their lineup of supernatural or occult films.

The film was released in theaters but the heirs of Bram Stoker were not too thrilled that the studio made a film without obtaining the rights and the Stoker estate and the British Society of Authors sued for copyright violations.

The court sided with the Stoker heirs and before any damages could be received by Prana Film, the studio shut down and all prints of “Nosferatu” were to be destroyed.

Yet one print did manage to survive and that version is what we have today.  But thanks to the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung company, the HD release of the 35 mm restoration offers viewers the best visual clarity of the film to date.

And the Blu-ray was released in November 2013 courtesy of Kino Classics which features both versions with English and German intertitles and optional English subtitles with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 stereo version of Hans Erdmann’s original 1922 score recorded and performed by the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Berndt Heller.

“Nosferatu” begins in a fictional town in Germany.  We are introduced to Hutter (portrayed by Gustav von Wangeheim) who is given the task by his employer named Knock (portrayed by Alexander Granch) to meet with a new client and convincing him to purchase of property to a Count Orlock (portrayed by Max Schreck) and to get him to buy the property across from Hutter’s home.

Seeing the advantage in business and to make money, Knock tells his loving wife Ellen (portrayed by Greta Schroder) that he will be leaving on business and that as he is gone, he entrust her to his friend Harding (portrayed by Georg H. Schnell) and his sister Annie (portrayed by Ruth Landshoff).

But as Hutter makes his way to Transylvania, he stops at an inn in the Carpathian Mountains and tells people he is off to see Count Orlock and others look at him with fear.  They warn him not to go because of a werewolf but Hutter looks as the situation as not fear but the townspeople joking with him.

While at the inn, he discovers a book about vampires but he barely reads it.  So, as he is taken to Transylvania, the coachmen accompanying him tell him that they will not go farther and thus, Hutter goes to Transylvania alone in which he meets Count Orlock who takes him into his castle.

While eating dinner, Hutter cuts his thumb with the knife and Count Orlock goes to suck on it, which Hutter is instantly repulsed by it.

He awakens to find punctures on his neck and thinks its the mosquitoes or spiders in the castle, but Hutter is able to get Count Orlock to sign the documents which state that the Count will be purchasing the house across his home.  But during the signing of the documents, a photo of Elena comes out of Hutter’s bag and immediately Count Orlock sees the photo and is captivated by Ellen’s neck.

But Hutter is already freaked out as he reads the book about vampires sucking on people’s blood during the night, but once he sees the true nature of Count Orlock and discovering that Count Orlock is sleeping a crypt and that he must be a vampire.

Meanwhile, something is happening to Ellen as she is waking up during the middle of the night and is seen wandering out of her home, walking on the patio pedestal causing Harding and Annie to worry about Ellen’s nature and that she needs medical help. But as Orlock is to attack Hutter, Ellen awakens by screaming his name as if she is in a trance.  And saving Hutter from becoming the Count’s latest victim.

While in Transylvania, Hutter sees Orlok preparing coffins on a coach (filled with plague carrying rats) and climbing into one before he departs.

Worrying about his wife and knowing Count Orlock, a vampire is moving across from his home, Hutter quickly tries to get back home before Orlock arrives to check on his wife Ellen.  But will he get to her in time?

VIDEO:

“Nosferatu” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1) and is color tinted.  Having owned the previous Kino DVD release of “Nosferatu”, there are a few points that I was quite thrilled to see about this film.  One is the clarity of the film as some scenes, especially with actress Greta Schroder as Ellen, looks absolutely clear in HD.  You can see her eyes and face much more clearly, including the strands of hair on her head with much better detail.  The same can be said about Count Orlock and Hutter.

But the clarity of this 91- year-old film is fantastic!

According to Kino Lorber:

Nosferatu was restored by Luciano Berriatúa on behalf of Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Weisbaden in 2005/06. A tinted nitrate print with French intertitles from 1922 from the Cinémathèque Française, Paris, was used as a basis for the restoration.

Missing shots were completed by a safety print from 1939 from Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin/Koblenz, drawn from a Czech export print from the 1920s. Other shots were taken from a nitrate print of the 1930 version, distributed under the title Die Zwölfte Stunde (The Twelfth Hour), preserved at the Cinémathèque Française, Paris.

Most of the original intertitles and inserts are preserved in a safety print from 1962 from Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin/Koblenz, originating in a print from 1922. Missing intertitles and inserts were redesigned on the basis of the original typography by trickWilk, Berlin. They are marked with F.W.M.S.

The lab work was carried out by L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Nosferatu” features Hanz Erdmann’s original 1922 score in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Linear PCM 2.0.  The music is performed by the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Berndt Heller.  And for any silent film HD fan, any inclusion of a musical soundtrack in lossless is greatly appreciated as instruments are crystal clear and utilize the surround channels for various instruments.  But the film does come alive when you hear this magnificent soundtrack in lossless.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Nosferatu” comes with the following special features:

  • The Language of Shadows – (52:46) A documentary about F.W. Murnau and his cinema work.
  • F.W. Murnau Film Excerpts – Featuring excerpts for F.W. Murnau’s “Journey Into the Night” (1920), “The Haunted Castle” (1921), “Phantom” (1922), “The Finances of the Grand Dukes” (1924), “The Last Laugh” (1924), “Tartuffe” (1925), “Faust” (1926) and “Tabu” (1931).
  • Promotional Trailer – Featuring a trailer for the remastered Blu-ray of “Nosferatu”.
  • Image Gallery – Featuring still sand promo images.

EXTRAS:

“Nosferatu” comes with a slipcase and comes with two Blu-ray discs (in one case) which features the film with English intertitles and the other with German intertitles (and optional English subtitles).

When it comes to “Nosferatu”, it’s interesting as people who watch it today are more fixated in the fact that the film is an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and see it as a silent horror film and earlier F.W. Murnau work.

But for those who are familiar with German Expressionist films, Murnau’s “Nosferatu” should be appreciated for its visual style and its eroticism for its time.

Having watched “Nosferatu” many times, I feel that at dinner discussions with friends, I tend to point out the characters that I find interesting.

Max Schreck as Nosferatu/Graf Orlok is rather fascinating for its portrayal of different type of Dracula, obviously to distance itself from anything Bram Stoker but to create a character that looks like a bat with its pointed ears and large claws.   Tall and creepy, a rather interesting observation is one to compare the character portrayal of Nosferatu in Herner Werzog’s version of the film.

The character of Hutter (portrayed by Gustav von Wangenheim) is a cheeky character who looks for success working for a creepy businessman named Knock who sends Hutter to Transylvania in order to visit Count Orlok in order to purchase a house right across from his.

Hutter’s character is seen as naive, chirpy, always smiling, not deterred by the warnings of those in a village not far from Transylvania, warning the man to not go.

Hutter leaves his wife Ellen with his friends, Harding and his sister Annie and we eventually see the distraught Ellen saddened by her husband’s departure, but both give a passionate kiss before he leaves to Transylvania.

But the ever-naive Hutter only starts to understand the nature that he’s in when he sees Count Orlock’s true nature and finds a crypt which Orlock is seen resting.  Hutter understands that Orlock is possibly a vampire and the film now becomes a race of time.

Hutter tries to go back home as quickly as he can by horse to check up on Ellen, while Count Orlock boards a ship that has taken various crypts and one by one, a shipmate is killed. The crypts have rats which prompts the surviving crewmates to think that a plague has spread among those on the ship.

If there is anything I have problems with the 1922 “Nosferatu” is certain pacing especially when it involves the character of Knock.  You just feel as perhaps there is something missing in the storyline when it comes to his character.  Not sure if it was cut or perhaps his character was underdeveloped because he’s not a primary character but there is quite a bit of jumping around when it comes to the character of “Knock”.

We know Knock is the equivalent to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” character of R.M. Renfield and there is much more meaning in the novel and his relationship with Count Orlock.

But one thing that has always captivated me about this film is the use of symmetry and shadows.  The shadows on a wall or on a person to showcase the monstrosity of Count Orlock before he takes on the victim.

What is also interesting is the use of sexuality as it uses Ellen constantly resisting or a scene in which she grabs upon her breast when frightened. It’s one thing that certain cineaste have zeroed in on of the key differences sexually as her character responds to Hutter versus her response towards Count Orlock.

Observers of German Expressionist films also zero in on not just the heterosexual theme but a homosexual theme.  I personally did not pick up the homosexuality nature of the film towards Nosferatu and Knock.  I saw the character of Knock as more as an obedient servant, waiting for his master.  As opposed to the characters where one can possibly make the argument for a film such as “Faust” and its characters of Mephisto and Faust.

But for “Nosferatu”, the use of sexuality in the film, while not entirely explicit, is well-utilized and how it ties into the ending but also its relation to the character of Ellen was nicely done.  The interesting symbolization that not only has Hutter given him the opportunity to live across from them but because he allowed Count Orlock to see the picture of Elena, it is as if he gave Orlock the opportunity to possess Elena.

For those not familiar with silent film, it’s important to remember that when it comes to color tinting, blue colors tend to refer to night time and sepia for daytime.

And for those who own the previous Murnau set and are wondering if this Blu-ray is worth the purchase.  Content-wise, they are nearly the same but this contains both films with English and German intertitles (on two different Blu-ray discs), also the film is presented in HD and is much better in picture and audio quality.  While the 2009 Murnau “Nosferatu” DVD featured the German special feature “Nosferatu: An Historic Film Meets Digital Restoration” but because there were different mastering for this Blu-ray release, the digital restoration feature was not included.  Also, the 2009 Murnau “Nosferatu” DVD featured scene comparisons between Bram Stoker’s novel, Henrik Galeen’s Sreenplay and F.W. Murnau’s film in text format.

But as for the question if the upgrade of “Nosferatu” is worth it, the answer is “yes”.   I do recommend this Blu-ray for the better clarity in the HD version and if you have a good surround setup to take advantage of the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack (a 2.0 LPCM stereo track is included).  Otherwise, if you are using an older TV and have no way or listening to a lossless soundtrack, then you should be good with the 2009 Kino DVD.

Overall, I have watched “Nosferatu” several times but it’s the first time where I was captivated by the film thanks to the better clarity of the film on Blu-ray and how much livelier the film was thanks to the lossless soundtrack.  While the 2009 Kino DVD of “Nosferatu” was a wonderful release, this Blu-ray release looks and sounds so much better that it’s worth the upgrade.

This F.W. Murnau German Expressionist horror film is a classic and for any fans of silent film on Blu-ray, “Nosferatu” is a Blu-ray release worth owning!  Highly recommended!

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