Nosferatu is a highly influential film, not just in the horror genre but in all cinema. It’s a masterpiece of German Expressionism, produced during the movement’s height. But at the time of its release in 1922, the picture was controversial for being a blatant, unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. A lawsuit from Stoker’s heirs ruled that all copies be destroyed. Thankfully, at least one print of the film survived and remains mostly intact. After countless poor quality public domain releases, Kino Classics has restored the film in high definition for an official Blu-ray release.
Following an opening overture, the film introduces Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), a German realtor, and his wife, Ellen (Greta Schröder). Hutter is sent to Transylvania to meet with a new client, Count Orlock (Max Schreck), who is interested in a property in Hutter’s hometown of Wisborg. Despite warnings from the locals, Hutter makes the journey to Orlock’s castle.
Orlock is a strange man right of the bat, but Hutter soon learns of his true identity: Nosferatu, an infamous vampire. Unfortunately, Hutter doesn’t make this discovery until after he wakes up to find what he believes to be two mosquito bites on his neck. Orlock heads to Wisborn, and Hutter isn’t far behind him. The only one who knows the truth, Hutter must save the Ellen and the rest of the city as death ravages through like a plague.
The script, written by influential Expressionist figure Henrik Galeen, is an adequate (if not original) substitute for the classic Dracula tale. To this day, the character of Nosferatu is visually striking, with disfigured features, animalistic claws and sharp fangs. His impossibly-tall, lanky frame casts an equally-frightening shadow, which director F. W. Murnau uses to his advantage. Beyond the fantastic make-up and without speaking a word, Schreck, a method actor engrossed in the character, truly brought something special to the role.
Kino’s Blu-ray release of Nosferatu includes both the reconstructed English intertitles and the original German intertitles (with English subtitles). They are identical otherwise; both of them are sourced from a tinted print with shades of color over the majority scenes. Although it is believed that this is how it was meant to be presented, I wouldn’t have minded seeing a black and white version, which most people have grown accustomed to, especially since the release is spread over two Blu-ray discs. (If you really want to see it in black and white, however, you can adjust the settings on you TV to do so.)
Even with the flickering picture and signs of age, the Blu-ray presentation of Nosferatu offers remarkable clarity. It looks so good that many scenes could be mistaken for being recently shot and then having aging effects added to appear older, a la Grindhouse. It’s actually a bit jarring to see everything in high definition; it’s like watching the film for the first time. The restoration used a primary print as its basis, along with a few safety prints in order to present the complete, 94-mintue film. It is accompanied by a wonderful orchestral performance of Hans Erdmann’s score.
In addition to the two versions of the film, Luciano Berriatúa’s The Language of Shadows is included as a bonus feature. The dry but comprehensive documentary explores Murnau’s life with an emphasis on the making of Nosferatu. The discs also include clips from five other Murnau films (Journey Into Night, The Haunted Castle, Phantom, The Finances of the Grand Duke and The Last Laugh), an image gallery and a promotional trailer for the Blu-ray.
Nosferatu is one of the best silent films of all time, ranking alongside the likes of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Phantom of the Opera. Schreck as Nosferatu remains one of the creepiest images ever put on film. The film also holds great significance for the horror genre, paving the way for Universal’s classic monster movies, as well as the countless vampire films that followed. It’s no wonder why people continue to discuss Nosferatu nearly 100 years later.