Made in 1922, FW Murnau's Expressionist masterpiece Nosferatu--A Symphony of Horrors
is an unofficial but reasonably faithful condensation of parts of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula
. Alongside Metropolis
(1926) it is one of the very few European features from the 1920s that is still regularly shown, and apart from being the first great horror film it laid the foundations of the vampire genre to the present day. Wearing astonishing rodent-like make-up Max Schreck cuts such an iconic figure as the undead Count that the 2001 comedy-horror Shadow of the Vampire
suggested he wasn't acting at all! Although Murnau's film was revolutionary and technically adventurous for the time, a modern audience will have to make some allowances for the fact the movie now seems both dated and technically primitive: Murnau's stylised lighting and camera effects have been endlessly imitated and improved upon since, and even its greatest defenders generally admit the film barely raises a shudder, let alone a full-blooded scare. Nevertheless, Nosferatu
holds a strange dreamlike grip on the imagination and its incalculable influence on fantasy and horror cinema means this is essential viewing for anyone seriously interested in the development of motion picture art.
On the DVD: Presented in Academy at 1.37:1 and with James Bernard's new orchestral score in well-recorded stereo Nosferatu looks and sounds as good as it has in decades. Bernard, composer of Hammer's Dracula (1958) among others, has written a superior score that captures the film's subtitle, "A Symphony of Horrors", and truly brings the images alive in a way previous scores have not. This restored version presents for the first time on video or DVD the blue and brown tints of the original cinema prints and replicates the original hand-designed inter-title cards which with their distinctive designs make the film much more of a compete visual experience. More importantly, this DVD offers approximately another quarter of an hour of material over the usually distributed American version. However, the restoration has not extended to repairing the many lines, scratches, variations in brilliance and other evidence of print damage present throughout. The film is perfectly watchable, being very much what one would expect from the early 1920s. There are text biographies and notes on Murnau and James Bernard, DVD-ROM material on the restoration of the print and a perceptive 23-minute discussion by film expert Christopher Frayling on many aspects of the movie. --Gary S Dalkin
In effect an unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, with the names changed as the film makers (Prana Film) were unable to secure the rights to the original novel! Soon after release, Stoker's estate sued for copyright infringement and won, with the court ordering the destruction of all the existing prints! Max Schreck ... Graf Orlok Gustav von Wangenheim ... Hutter Greta Schröder ... Ellen Hutter, seine Frau Alexander Granach ... Knock, ein Häusermakler Georg H. Schnell ... Westenra - Hutters Freund Ruth Landshoff ... Lucy, Westenras Frau Directed by F W Murnau