|cast: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, and Greta Schröder
director: F.W. Murnau
95 minutes (PG) 1922
|Bram Stoker’s Dracula must be one of the most-filmed novels in history. However, one of the definitive takes on the story was an unauthorised one, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (aka: Nosferatu, A Symphony Of Horror), a silent film directed by F.W. Murnau in Germany in 1922. Unauthorised is right: the makers never cleared the rights to Stoker’s novel, which led to his widow suing the film company. She won, and the film was ordered to be destroyed: happily, she did not succeed, and five original prints of the film are known to survive. These copies differ from each other. The fact that the film is now in the public domain has made matters worse: you can pick up a cheap copy that will be incomplete and maybe even without a soundtrack. Eureka’s two-disc edition – based on the F.W. Murnau Stiftung’s 2007 restoration, which contains all the available footage, is faithful to the original tinting scheme and features the original score (unheard since the film’s premiere) – has to be considered definitive.
The film follows Stoker’s novel though it changes the character names. Jonathan Harker becomes Jonathan Hutter (Gustav van Wangenheim) who is led into the deepest part of Transylvania, where he meets Count Orlok (Max Schreck). Stoker’s novel, and later film versions, the vampire is a seductive figure. Orlok, however, is anything but: a pestilential, rat-like creature, scurrying in the darkness. Murnau’s direction shows inventiveness that he would refine in such films as The Last Laugh and, in Hollywood, his masterpiece Sunrise. Needless to say, some allowances have to be made, partly because some moments have since become clichés, but if you let it, Nosferatu still has the power to unnerve.
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Eureka’s edition is on two discs, encoded for all regions. The film itself is transferred in the correct ratio of 1.33:1, at the original speed of 18 frames per second. The music score is available in both Dolby digital 2.0 (the default) and Dolby digital 5.1. Extras include an audio commentary by Brad Stevens and R. Dixon Smith. Disc two has a restoration demonstration, and The Language Of Shadows: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau And His Films. This 52-minute documentary covers Murnau’s early life and films (including seven made in 1919 and 1920, all now lost, though an intriguingly risqué fragment survives from one) before describing the making of Nosferatu. The documentary visits some of the film’s locations and also talks about Murnau’s interest in occultism. Both these features are in German with English subtitles. Also in the DVD package is a 96-page book that was not available for review, but which includes articles by David Skal, Thomas Elsaesser, Gilberto Perez and Enno Patalas, a newly-translated archival piece on vampires by the film’s producer Albin Grau, plus notes of the film’s restoration.