Nosferatu (Kino Classics, PG-13)

Nosferatu 75Nosferatu is a masterpiece of silent cinema that includes some of the creepiest images ever recorded on film.

Nosferatu 500

As much as I love Universal’s 1931 Dracula, it really is a mess and without the presence of Bela Lugosi in the title role, would probably have fallen apart altogether. For a more cohesive take on Bram Stoker’s novel, the touchstone has always been F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu (or, to use the full name: Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens, i.e., Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror). Directed by F.W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck, Nosferatu is a masterpiece of silent cinema that includes some of the creepiest images ever recorded on film.

Nosferatu nearly became a lost film because the production company, Prana Film, didn’t bother getting the rights to Bram Stoker’s novel, and changing names and locations wasn’t nearly enough to fool anyone. Stoker’s estate sued for copyright infringement, and the court ordered all copies of Nosferatu destroyed. One survived, adding to the undead legend and helping to make it a cult film. Better cult than non-existent, but Nosferatu is so good it should be seen by all film lovers, and the restored Blu-ray (in their words, the “deluxe remastered edition”), issued by Kino Classics, should help this film approach this goal.

The plot of Nosferatu has some differences from the 1931 Dracula, but most of the basic elements of the story are there. Nosferatu adds some creepy elements, including some strange runic writing (in the M.R. James sense) that tips us off that poor Thomas Hutter (Jonathan Harker) is being sent to his doom long before we meet the skeletal Count Orlock (Dracula). And, when it comes to the menacing use of shadows, I don’t think Murnau’s film will ever be equaled.

The Kino Classics restoration of Nosferatu looks and sounds great: the images are based on the 35mm restoration done by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, and the orchestral soundtrack is based on a restoration of Hans Erdmann’s 1922 score. You also have a choice of two versions of the film: one with English intertitles, and one with German intertitles and English subtitles. My only criticism is that the English intertitles are not easy to read — they’re usually presented in a semi-Gothic script, and occasionally in old-fashioned handwriting — but you get accustomed to them as the film progresses.

The main extra included with Nosferatu is a 53-minute German documentary, The Language of Shadows, with English subtitles and voiceover. It’s quite good at creating a context for Nosferatu, including Murnau’s involvement in theosophy (Prana Film was founded to produce supernatural and occult-themed films, and one of the producers of Nosferatu later gave up film entirely, so he could concentrate fulltime on occult matters), as well as his stage background (Murnau toured as an actor with Max Reinhardt’s theater company, which proved to be a major training ground for German film directors). The documentary is also packed with information about Murnau’s earlier (and presumed lost) films as well with details about the filming of Nosferatu, from shooting locations to lens choices. | Sarah Boslaugh

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