The Film (5/5)
F.W. Murnau's 1922 masterpiece of the macabre Nosferatu is one of the earliest examples of classic German cinema. The generation of German filmmakers who came up around Murnau were also the last generation of German filmmakers to occur before the Third Reich swept in, and caused as German New Wave filmmaker and Nosferatu the Vampyre remake director Werner Herzog referred (to paraphrase) a generation without Fathers. Germany, of course, had great filmmakers at the time, but they were swept into making propaganda films for the Hitler regime.
When the New German cinema movement began with filmmakers like Herzog and Fassbinder in the 60's they had to look back not to the prior generation of filmmakers for their influence, but to the silent filmmakers of the earliest German cinema like Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau for their inspiration. Herzog has gone on record many times stating that Murnau's Nosferatu was quite possibly his favorite example of German cinema of all time, so it must have been no surprise for his one true remake, and his one leap into the horror genre that Herzog chose to make a variation on F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu.
Murnau's Nosferatu was initially an attempt to adapt Bram Stoker's seminal vampire novel Dracula. Unfortunately for Murnau, the Stoker estate still owned the copyright and were reluctant to give it up to the filmmaker demanding that all prints of his film be destroyed. They were not, and names and places were changed in the film to avoid conflicting with the copyright issue. By the time Werner Herzog got around to making his version of the film the copyright on Dracula had long expired, and he was able to make a version of the story that is true both to the spirits of Murnau and to Stoker.
Both films create a true atmosphere of terror, but Herzog being Herzog he takes a more slow, deliberately paced approach to the material which allows the setting as well as the situation, and Kinski's monster to contribute to the terror. The one element that truly makes both films stand out from typical vampire fare is the choice of the leading man. If you asked me to choose between Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski in the films leading role, I'd have a hard time deciding as they both convey a sense of absolute dread and terror.
Klaus Kinski, of course, was one of cinema's legendary psychopaths. Only a handful of filmmakers will claim to have worked with him more than once, and legend has it that he had to be held at gunpoint by Herzog to complete one of the films they collaborated on (either Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo). He brings that atmosphere of controlled insanity and intensity to his role as Dracula in Nosferatu, and create a vampire that is the opposite of the deeply sexual and suave antagonist we have come to know as a vampire in the late 20th and early 21st century, and created something that is more of a horrific societal menace.
The direction from Herzog as mentioned previously is of the slow, deliberate nature that his films, especially of this period are known for. The cinematography is simply stunning, and I cannot think of a comparable "Dracula" film that looks this natural, and this beautiful. The score by Popul Vuh (aka the late Florian Fricke) absolutely complements the feature with it's wonderful brooding and atmospheric textures.
I am not one to advocate for remakes in the horror genre, however, there was a period in the late 70's through the early 80's where films such as this were made with deliberate care to make a film that stands separately from, and manages to honor the source material. Herzog's Nosferatu is a wonderfully macabre cinematic masterpiece from a director who is not known for his works in the genre, but has altogether created some of the most intense, strange, and beautiful cinema of the late 20th century.
Scream Factory have presented Herzog's Nosferatu in a solid, but not overly fantastic 1:85:1 1080p transfer. The transfer has a very nice warm atmosphere present, excellent fine detail, and occasionally nice blacks. There is a healthy level of grain at times, which occasionally ramps up at a few moments to distracting levels, and there is some print damage. I did notice some issues with compression artifacting in some of the films darker moments, not all, but some. Overall, the transfer as a whole is pleasing to the eye.
Scream Factory have presented 3 audio options over 2 versions of the film a DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 track in German and a DTS-HD 2.0 track in English. I primarily watched the German variation with the 5.1 track, and was quite pleased with the result. The dialogue is audible throughout as are the effects and music. I did not detect any issues with the audio.
We have 2 commentary tracks present on the film. The classic commentary from the AB disc with Herzog and Norm Hill in English. We then get a German commentary with Herzog and Lauren Straubs (subtitled). There is a 13 minute making of ported over from the AB disc, 2 trailers, and a still gallery.
Herzog's Nosferatu may not just be an excellent remake, but also one of the finest, most atmospheric vampire films ever made. The A/V restoration from Shout! is decent, and the extras are quality. Scream Factory's Nosferatu the Vampire is RECOMMENDED.