Blu-ray Review: Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror

Starring: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schroder, Alexander Granach

Director: F.W. Murnau

Rating: 5/5

The equivalent of precious blood to budding filmmakers and lovers of horror, F.W. Murnau’s 1922 film has only grown more influential over the years, and if you want to understand why, you only have to look at its technical inventiveness, its dreamlike ambience, and its clever use (following Stoker) of diaries, ship’s logs and letters to tell the story. And this masterly vampire flick is now more accessible than ever, thanks to this new Blu-ray from those nice people at Masters of Cinema.

Fans often point out that silent films aren’t really silent, and never was that truer than here, with Hans Erdmann’s lush orchestral score available in two audio tracks, stereo and 5.1 surround, the latter especially sparkling and full of bite. Moreover, this restoration of Nosferatu isn’t even noticeably black-and-white – it’s based upon a tinted nitrate print, so the scenes come in attractive washes of blue, yellow and sepia, with coloured intertitles.

The transfer retains a fair bit of wear and tear to the negative and the natural flicker that resulted from the cranking of the camera, but for the most part it has impressive clarity and depth. You can see practically every brick of the row of tumbledown warehouses that Orlok moves into after leaving his castle, and the shimmer of Elsa’s satin dress as she sits beside the sea awaiting her husband’s return, and details that hitherto might have passed you by stand out sharply – such as the delightful pair of Black Forest chairs with legs carved into the shape of lapdogs that flank Orlok’s fireplace (Hutter, the ill-fated estate agent, slumps down upon one of them, suggesting that he is being moulded into a lapdog too).

Extras include two scholarly audio commentaries packed full of insights and background info. There’s an enjoyably shambolic video intro by Abel Ferrara, and another, much more polished one by critic Kevin Jackson, which delves for 20 minutes into the film’s occult imagery, its use of visual quotations from German romantic works of art, and the importance to the whole project of producer/designer Albin Grau, a mystical adept who, if anyone, was this movie’s auteur (a poster by Grau graces the front cover). These themes recur in The Language of Shadows, a 53-minute, German-made documentary that takes the viewer through Murnau’s early films (all lost bar a few fragments) before looking in detail at the shooting schedule of Nosferatu and revisiting some of its real-life locations. A few have disappeared, but a surprising number have survived more or less unchanged, including, would you believe it, those sinister warehouses. To judge by how rapidly he reeled off shot after shot, far from the tortured genesis one might have expected, Murnau seems to have gotten his masterpiece in the can with remarkably little fuss. The only disappointment, extras-wise, is that there is nothing about the fascinatingly enigmatic Max  Schreck, but otherwise this release offers you everything you need to become an instant expert on one of cinema’s enduring classics.

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