FW Murnau’s Nosferatu is one of the indisputable classics of horror cinema. The 1922 film arose from the German expressionist movement and has been hugely influential in its look, style and even ideas – such as vampires being destroyed by the rays of the sun. The image of the Nosferatu himself, Count Orlock, is surely one of the most indelible images in all of cinema.
The film itself is a public domain film, meaning anyone can release it. This has led to a glut of inferior versions, with changes such as a new score, deleted titles or the alteration of character names to match those in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, from which Nosferatu illegally takes its plot.
This DVD release is the result of a painstaking restoration job constructed from various different prints of the film. A disappointingly brief three-minute clip on the second disc provides the quickest of overviews of this process. The process describes colour tinting with the objective being to ensure the nighttime exteriors are correctly tinted green, daytime exteriors yellow and interiors various other colours as, in other versions lacking this, it appears as if Count Orlock is happily strolling around in the bright sunshine.
Aside from the tint, the visuals are excellent in this edition. Superbly clear to the point that it feels more like a recently-shot film made to look old rather than something transferred from a bona fide 90-year-old movie.
The plot follows Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), a real estate clerk sent to the remote Transylvanian castle of a mysterious Count Orlock (Max Schreck) in order to finalise the sale of a building right across from his own house. However, he finds Orlock to be a strange, rat-faced man who sleeps during the day and seems to take a greater interest in Hutter’s blood than in any real estate deal.
The deal closed, Hutter discovers one night in the castle the true vampiric nature of Orlock, just as the Count leaves for his new abode. And so the race is on to get back to Hutter’s young wife in Wisborg between her husband and the Nosferatu.
Nosferatu is packed with iconic moments – the Count stalking the streets with his own coffin under one arm or him rising from his coffin pivoting at the feet. Then there is the brilliant scene where his shadow falls over the chest of one of his victims and as his silhouetted hands tighten where the victim’s heart would be, the poor wretch is stricken.
Perhaps the only problem with the film is that, for modern audiences, it seems almost too familiar. The plot itself is very simple and is that same plot used for the basis of so many Dracula adaptations and the characters are threadbare, not to mention the filming and acting style is perhaps not as nuanced as jaded 21st century viewers may be used to.
Nevertheless, Nosferatu stands as a towering achievement and its shadow, like that of Count Orlock, still lies heavy across horror cinema. Essential viewing, especially in this restored version – complete with a re-recorded version of the original score.
- Audio commentary
- The Language of Shadows: The Early Years and Nosferatu
- Nosferatu: An Historic Film Meets Digital Restoration
- An excerpt from Dracula by Bram Stoker
- An essay on the film
- Image Gallery
Nosferatu is available on a R4 DVD two-disc set from Madman Entertainment.