Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide, Part 8

The Many Faces of Orlok: Restored Versions on Blu-ray and DVD

  • Count Orlok’s saga has metamorphosed through a bewildering array of different versions
  • Edits, tints, scores, intertitles and extra features: there are literally dozens of variations available
  • Choosing which to buy was devilishly difficult until now, but be warned: real fans will want more than one

This series of articles covers everything Graf Orlok and is designed to be read sequentially. They detail the film’s history, many different versions and home video releases, and I suggest you start reading from Part 1, unless you want to skip straight to the DVD and Blu-ray reviews.

Nosferatu (1922) by Mike Walton aka Quasilucid, 2011

Nosferatu (1922) by Mike Walton, 2011


Contents


The many faces of Orlok

As we’ve seen, the most recent 1987, 1995 and 2006 restorations are the only complete versions available. Aside from a few tiny missing snippets, they all return the film to its original length. They’re each quite distinct, but strangely the latest does not advance upon the earlier ones in every area, as you might presume. It’s very much a case of six of one, half a dozen of the other. It’s crucial to bear in mind that no new early prints of Nosferatu have surfaced since 1984 and none of the three restorations since then is intrinsically ‘better’ than the others. Simply put, they’re each a very different patchwork, but all draw on the same handful of incomplete, variable quality prints.

The 1987 restoration is unavailable on home video in its original form, but can be had in two retinted versions with new English intertitles. There’s also an edited version available, with a third new tinting scheme. None of the colour schemes are original but two are based on educated guesswork, and they’re very well done. A third uniquely has the whole film in sepia and is still one of my favourites. As covered in greater detail earlier, the 1995 and 2006 restorations differ hugely. This is for many reasons but the main one is because the teams that worked on each interpreted the same available evidence in very different ways. This includes:

  • Vastly different tinting schemes, including the hues, placement and timing of colours. Additionally, each makes several errors unique to that version.
  • Some shots look better in one or the other and sometimes either can have more information in the frame, according to the source used.
  • They contain three different editing goofs between them, with snippets of repeated footage.
  • Each has multiple instances of missing frames that are present in the other. They’re mostly fleeting transitions and scene extensions, but it’s clear no one version incorporates every scrap of available footage.
  • There are some variances in the exact placement of intertitles and neither seems to get it completely right. Their designs vary too; slightly between each restoration and greatly between the many different home video editions, with six distinct sets altogether.
  • Last but not least, there are the scores: a total of six very different ones across all the restored discs. The BFI’s orchestral opus by James Bernard is the pick of the bunch but they’re all pretty fab. You could easily collect the whole set. I did.

The bottom line is that neither is technically or subjectively ‘better’ than the other. Everyone will have their own preference. I’ve noticed a strong tendency for fans to prefer the 2006 restoration, but believe confirmation bias plays a part in thinking the latest must be the best. It ain’t necessarily so. It does look gorgeous but is mainly compromised by having the most variable score and some strange tinting choices.

One thing’s for sure: even allowing for the subpar state of extant materials, none of the restorations are anywhere close to perfect. There’s room for much further improvement and given Count Orlok’s undying popularity (pun wholly intended), one day it’s bound to happen.

A Nosferatu Pin-up by Anthony H, 2018

A Nosferatu Pin-up by Anthony H, 2018


Restored Blu-rays and DVDs: a complete list

The number of low quality Nosferatu DVDs featuring the public domain version easily runs into the hundreds, but here are all known restored releases, including VHS tapes and LaserDiscs for good measure. They range from the very good to the sublime and all have custom recorded scores and varying amounts of extra features. If it’s not on this list, don’t buy it; if you already have, replace it.

DVD recommendations: for the earlier restorations, the unique UK Eureka 2000, US Image 2000 and Kino 2002 discs are the pick of the bunch. A big fan of the film would own all three, for their different restorations, scores and extras. For the 2006 restoration, the UK’s 2-DVD 2013 reissue and all Spanish (but non-English friendly) sets come out tops.

Blu-ray recommendations are dealt with separately here: Nosferatu Unleashed in HD: Every Blu-ray Reviewed

1965 Atlas Film version – 63min (24fps); original B&W public domain version, based on 1947 MoMA print with Peter Schirmann score; well worth a look for the curious

Every restored release has been transferred at 18fps, bar the BFIs at 19fps.

1991 David Shepard version – 81min; based on MoMA print with added tinting, new English intertitles and Timothy Howard score

1987 restoration – 92min; first complete version, with original tinting and intertitles; unavailable in its original form

Eureka version – 92min; 1987 restoration with new tinting schemes, new English intertitles and Art Zoyd score

2000 David Shepard version – 81min; edited, retinted and rescored copy of Eureka version

  • US: Image remastered DVD (2000) – Timothy Howard and Silent Orchestra scores

1995 restoration – Kino and Divisa: 93min at 18fps; BFI: 89min at 19fps

  • US: Kino DVD (2002) – new English intertitles; Donald Sosin/Joanna Seaton and Art Zoyd scores; also in 5-DVD The F.W. Murnau Collection and 4-DVD German Horror Classics sets
    • Kino VHS (2002) – “Restored Authorized Edition”; Art Zoyd score
  • UK: BFI DVD (2002)VHS (2002) and BD (2015) – 1997 Photoplay version with new English intertitles and James Bernard score; omits the five-act intertitles
  • Germany: Universum Film VHS (2003) – original German intertitles and Art Zoyd score
  • Spain: Divisa DVD (2003) and VHS (1995, reissued 2002) – DVD has original German and optional new overlaid Spanish intertitles, via the subtitle stream; Art Zoyd score

2006 restoration – all 94–95min (incl. 2min+ of restoration credits) and with Erdmann/Heller score. All have original German intertitles but the 2-disc Kino and Madman sets also have a fifth set of new English ones! The Kinos have the German on a separate transfer on the second disc, while the Madman defaults to them on the first disc, with the English as optional.

These are the best English-friendly DVDs and between them they cover all the bases:

 BFI Player

A note of caution: Transit Film, licensees of the 1987 and 1995 restorations, sent out the wrong masters to the BFI and Eureka when they requested PAL copies of the 1995 for VHS and DVD release. The BFI got the right version, but an NTSC copy instead. This created issues when they mastered directly from NTSC-PAL, so consequently the BFI DVD has by far the softest transfer of the lot. By rights they should have reissued it 13 years later, when the Photoplay version was rescanned and cleaned up to create a new HD master. A real pity, as it’s the only one with James Bernard’s brilliant score. If you want to hear it, you may be better off sticking to the album or the BFI’s problem-free HD copy on BD or digital.

Eureka fared even worse by Transit (luckily for completists) and received a digital B&W copy of the otherwise-unissued 1987 restoration. But it was also in NTSC, so as I said earlier, Eureka commissioned extra work on their copy to minimise the effects of the unconverted transfer. Therefore the results are much better than you usually see in such cases. All Kino DVDs have similarly afflicted PAL-NTSC transfers, but that’s as a result of cost-cutting on their part.

There are various illicit copies of the licensed versions – obviously all should be avoided. For example, the 1995 restoration was pirated on a couple of cropped, vertically-stretched French DVDs by inveterate crooks Films sans Frontières. They’re identical, though one is packaged as “Collection Ciné Club”. The latest pirate is a 2017 Oz DVD from shysters Bounty Films. It has an uncredited rip of the 2006 restoration and the score incorrectly transferred in mono. Amateurs. There are also several pirated DVDs and even reputed BDs from Italy, courtesy of prolific thieves Ermitage Cinema and Studio 4K. Shun them like the plague: Italy still has no legitimate Nosferatu releases as a direct result of their piracy.


Summary

It’s hard to imagine that for so many years, starting from its peak première presentationNosferatu gradually all but disappeared and could only be seen by a tiny minority in awful, incomplete B&W versions, usually devoid of any score whatsoever. This sorry state of affairs began to turn around in the mid-1960s, with the arrival of the pivotal Atlas Film version. Things improved steadily until today when, as with so many other silents, we are spoiled by a veritable cornucopia of choices. Whether on any of the complete and restored, high quality home video editions above or the constant stream of screenings with live music, we never need return to those dark days of yesteryear. I won’t ever tire of saying this: in terms of accessibility, there’s never been a better time to be a silent film fan and this really is the new golden age of cinema. Sweet dreams!

Gustav von Wangenheim gets the night terrors in Nosferatu (1922) UK Eureka/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

Gustav von Wangenheim gets the night terrors. UK Eureka/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

Grateful thanks to Aitam Bar-SagiDavid ShepardLokke Heiss, Martin H. Larsen, and Patrick Stanbury for help with this series of articles.

See DVDCompare for more in-depth details of any discs mentioned. Any questions or suggestions? Post in the comments.


If you like this, you’ll love:

I started Brenton Film because I love film – quelle surprise! The silent era, 1930s and 1940s especially get my literary juices flowing though. So you’ll see a lot about those. For more, see this site’s About page.

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