In our humble opinion, Nosferatu is the greatest silent horror film of them all, maybe even the greatest silent film if we can call it a draw with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
We all know the story behind Nosferatu; that the producers approached Bram Stoker’s estate requesting permission to adapt his novel and the estate refused, so director F.W. Murnau and his screenwriter Henrik Galeen just went ahead and ripped the novel off anyway. Stoker’s widow, justifiably unimpressed, immediately sued the filmmakers and the court issued an order that all prints of Nosferatu be destroyed. Thankfully, like the vampire himself, the cinematic Nosferatu proved impossible to kill. It would have been a sad loss to the world if the court had had its way.
Over the past several decades there have been some horrendous public domain releases of the film, most of them unwatchable. And then, with the advent of DVD, audiences literally began to see what all the fuss was about. Now, the BFI have released Nosferatu again and the results are nothing less than spectacular.
A quick note - in the interests of transparency (a little like a vampire's reflection, or are we going too far with that analogy?) Eureka/Masters of Cinema have also previously released a Blu-ray of the movie which is very different in visual presentation (specifically the tinting and the intertitles) but looks equally as strong, and yet even if you own the MoC version it’s still worth double-dipping. Here’s the reason why:
James Bernard’s score.
Where MoC used the music which was originally composed for the film back in 1922, the BFI have opted instead for a magnificent soundtrack written by Hammer Horror maestro James Bernard, and it works beautifully. More than that, it actually makes the film seem new again. Even those who know Nosferatu very well will be surprised by the extra element Bernard’s music gives to it; overly familiar images don’t seem familiar anymore, and there’s urgency and dynamism - most notably in the sequence when Orlok comes to Hutter’s bedroom and Hutter, petrified, cowers beneath his blankets, and during the passage on the schooner, as Orlok cuts his deadly swathe through the ship’s crew.
On paper, MoC's disc still has the edge because it includes two commentaries against the BFI's none, but the BFI’s special features - a terrific Christopher Frayling introduction which should have been sub-headed ‘Everything you always wanted to know about Nosferatu but were afraid to ask’ and two short films, Le Vampire, a French documentary about the vampire bat which is fascinating but probably not for squeamish guinea pig lovers, and The Mistletoe Bough, a 1904 ghost story that is an entertaining curio - are a fantastic edition and compliment the main event perfectly.
So what’s the verdict? If you don’t already own Nosferatu on Blu, grab this disc. If you already own the MoC Nosferatu on Blu, still grab this disc. And if you grab this disc but still haven’t had enough of the greatest silent horror film ever made (and enjoy listening to commentaries), grab the MoC disc as well.
We can’t recommend this highly enough.
NOSFERATU / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: F.W. MURNAU / SCREENPLAY: HENRIK GALEEN / STARRING: MAX SCHRECK, GRETA SCHRODER, RUTH LANDSHOFF, GUSTAV VON WANGENHEIM / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW