Nosferatu: The Ultimate Blu-ray and DVD Guide


Latest Nosferatu news:


  • Nosferatu , the original onscreen vampire tale, is one of the most iconic horror films ever
  • It survives in more versions, with more different sets of intertitles, than any other silent film
  • Beware: watching the wrong version can kill it more surely than a stake through the heart
  • Its entire history – along with every version and home video release – is now laid bare, to quote Orlok, like “a beautiful neck…”

Nosferatu (1922) Count Orlok by Kurt Goldzung

Nosferatu (1922) Count Orlok by Kurt Goldzung

Nosferatu – Tönt dies Wort Dich nicht an wie der mitternächtige Ruf eines Totenvogels. Hüte Dich es zu sagen, sonst verblassen die Bilder des Lebens zu Schatten, spukhafte Träume steigen aus dem Herzen und nähren sich von Deinem Blut.“

Nosferatu – Does this word not sound to thee like the midnight call of the Bird of Death? Take care in saying it, otherwise the images of life will fade to shadows, and ghostly dreams will rise from your heart and nourish themselves on your blood.”


Ahh, there you are. Won’t you please come in? Don’t be frightened, child. If you’re sitting comfortably, I shall begin…

When it comes to home video releases, Nosferatu rises time after time. You just can’t keep a bad Count down. Its latest resurrection in HD, courtesy of the British Film Institute (BFI), is their second kick at the can. They’ve updated their 2002 DVD but the film’s already very well served, both on DVD and Blu-ray – so was it worth it? If you can’t wait to find out, jump to my summary. But we have all night until the cock crows, so why rush? Before we get to that, consider the following:

Nosferatu (1922), alongside The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and Metropolis (1927), is foremost among the ‘warhorses’ of silent cinema. That is to say, out of all silent films in circulation today it is one of the most…

  • …famous: replete with iconic imagery, it is often known to those who have never even seen a silent film.
  • …often screened: it’s always playing somewhere. A vampire’s not just for Halloween!
  • …often rescored and accompanied live. As well as respected, established silent film musicians and composers, seemingly every week anyone who can play an instrument takes it upon themselves to create a new score. From piano to choral and electronica to goth rock[9], the success of the results are a matter of personal taste. Or lack of it.
  • …often restored and reissued on home video. A mind boggling number of times in fact, as you’ll see below. From Betamax and VHS, via LaserDisc and DVD to Blu-ray and streaming, Count Orlok’s seen ‘em all. He may be ancient but he does like to keep up with the times, you know.

As Lady Macbeth might say, “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”


Contents


A vampire’s tale: birth, death and resurrection

Nosferatu is the earliest surviving vampire film and though they both share the same source, it predates Dracula (1931) by nearly a decade. It’s a loose, unauthorised adaptation of the classic 1897 novel by Bram Stoker (1847–1912) and the first (and last) release by fledgling German outfit Prana-Film. At the helm was 6’11” (210 cm) tall, ex-World War I fighter pilot Friedrich Wilhelm ‘F. W.’ Murnau. Already well on his way to becoming one of the best regarded directors of the silent era, following Nosferatu he fashioned further masterpieces like The Last Laugh (1924); Faust (1926) and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), a winner of several awards at the first Oscars. Tragically, when only 42 years old and at the peak of his powers, Murnau died in a car accident shortly after completing his final film, Tabu (1931).

Friedrich Wilhelm 'F. W.' Murnau, German silent film director

F. W. Murnau (1888–1931), Nosferatu’s director

Though often overlooked in favour of Murnau, the real key player in the film’s creation was co-producer and production designer Albin Grau (1884–1971). He co-founded Prana-Film with businessman Enrico Dieckmann, initiated the project and appointed all the creative roles, including Murnau himself and noted fellow filmmaker and occultist Henrik Galeen (1881–1949), who penned the screenplay. Galeen’s shooting script, with annotations by Murnau, can be read here and here. As well as being a talented artist and architect, Grau was a lifelong follower of the occult and was responsible for the look and feel of the entire project. He designed the sets and costumes and drew all the storyboards, posters and other promotional artwork. He even even wrote the occult symbol-laden letter seen in the film itself and executed the fine intertitle calligraphy. Phew. Though the film will always be synonymous with Murnau, it is undoubtedly Grau who casts the longest shadow over Nosferatu.

Albin Grau self portrait (1918) courtesy of Kantonsbibliothek Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Albin Grau (1884–1971), chief creative force behind Nosferatu. Self portrait (1918) courtesy of Kantonsbibliothek Appenzell Ausserrhoden.

The titular character himself was perfectly embodied by seasoned actor Max Schreck (1879–1936), whose name actually translates as ‘fright’ – you couldn’t make it up! Though he had many other stage and screen roles, he’s chiefly known nowadays for his turn as the creepy Count. Certainly the sheer brilliance of Nosferatu was no accident: many of the people involved both behind and in front of the camera went on to make some of the most enduring screen successes of Weimar era Germany. Long acknowledged as an Expressionist masterpiece, alongside the likes of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and the aforementioned Metropolis, as it approaches its first century, Nosferatu continues to be revered by academics everywhere and enjoyed by film fans alike.

Nosferatu (1922) Max Schreck as Count Orlok rising from his coffin, UK Eureka-Masters of Cinema Blu-ray screenshot

UK Eureka/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray screenshot

Nosferatu, or to go by its full title, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror), makes many changes to the source novel:

  • Firstly the title was changed, to something a little more oblique. In case you’re wondering, “Nosferatu” is possibly derived from the archaic Romanian/Transylvanian words Nesuferitu or Necuratu. These translate as “the insufferable/repugnant one” or “the unclean spirit”. In other words, a demon or devil. Alternatively it could be from the Greek nosophoros, meaning “plague carrier”. Aww, rats. Well, whatever it is, it’s not good.
  • Count Dracula, with his outward appearance of being a courtly, cultured gentleman (further refined by his depiction in the 1920s stage play), here becomes Count Orlok – a fearful, feral, ratlike creature.
  • All other names are changed too: Jonathan Harker becomes Thomas Hutter, Mina becomes Ellen, Renfield: Knock and so on.
  • The story is more streamlined with many characters being dropped, such as Van Helsing, Dracula’s ‘brides’ and the leading couples’ friends. In their stead, a few new minor characters are added.
  • Unlike Dracula, Orlok does not create other vampires at will: he kills his victims outright. This causes the blame for the deaths to be shifted elsewhere.
  • Much of the action is transposed from 1890s Whitby in England to the fictitious German city of Wisborg in 1838. As for the rest of the film, the cast and crew never set foot in the real Transylvania.[1]
  • Perhaps most importantly (I’ll avoid an outright spoiler, but…) in the original novel, Dracula’s ultimate fate is very different: sunlight only weakens him. Its effect on Orlok has since become an integral part of vampiric folklore.
  • Lastly, Nosferatu made two other profound changes to the story that weren’t assimilated into the accepted conventions of the bloodsucking undead. In restrospect, the course of 20th century vampire history may well have been more interesting if they had. In this take on the myth, religion offers neither succour nor protection against Orlok’s evil lust and the men are helpless and weak. They’re scared and unaware; completely powerless to prevent the terrible fate about to befall them. It is Ellen who is the strongest, most knowing character and it is she who proves to be the only worthy adversary of Count Orlok. Girl Power indeed.

These alterations were mainly made in an attempt to disguise Nosferatu’s origins and avoid accusations of plagiarism, but they weren’t enough. On its release Prana were sued by Stoker’s widow, Florence. (The film had not been a financial success; failure to secure widespread distribution in their home country and the US had hurt Prana considerably. The ongoing litigation with Florence Stoker caused yet more more damage and by the time she eventually triumphed in July 1925, they had declared the company bankrupt. For more, see Nosferatu and the Public Domain, an excellent article detailing the court case and the film’s legal status. Florence was thus thwarted in securing the £5,000 she’d demanded in settlement, but wasn’t about to let it end there: instead she insisted on outright ownership of the film then, having obtained it, ordered that all copies be destroyed. She had never even watched it. Thankfully a few prints survived in private hands and continued to be screened intermittently, especially after Florence’s death in 1937. Inexorably its reputation grew and those prints ultimately became the basis of all the restored versions we know today.

A tragic coda is that Prana originally planned to make nine more occult themed films, with titles like Hollenträume (Dreams of Hell) and Der Sumpfteufel (The Devil of the Swamp) – imagine what we could have had!

Nosferatu (1922) Max Schreck as Count Orlok climbing the stairs, UK BFI Blu-ray screenshot

UK BFI Blu-ray screenshot

Nosferatu’s cultural influence is inestimable and it’s the great-grandaddy of virtually every horror film that followed. It directly inspired a near-eponymous 1979 remake as well as Shadow of the Vampire (2000), in which the actor playing Count Orlok is an actual vampire, running amok behind the scenes during the making of the original 1922 film. Cartoons, comics, novels and even operas – both rock and regular – have been based on the the Count’s misadventures. He’s been converted to 3D and right now there’s yet another remake/reimagining in the works. Orlok continues to fire the imaginations of artists, authors and filmmakers everywhere and is showing no signs of slowing down in his unfathomably old age.


Restorations galore: reincarnated to kill again and again

As with most silent films, Nosferatu is in the public domain. This means anyone can take any old battered, incomplete copy and slap it on a DVD alongside similarly poor quality, generic, unsynchronised public domain music, known as a ‘needle-drop’ score. Dozens and dozens of companies already have, but the results are invariably unwatchable and not worth the effort, no matter how cheaply you acquire them. To avoid wasting your time and money, stick to the high quality restored versions discussed here. Even when confining ourselves to these it gets very complicated: often, not just with Nosferatu, there are competing versions of silent films from different labels and differently-restored sources. I’ll attempt to unpick the myriad manifestations of Count Orlok as simply as possible.

Nosferatu (1922) Max Schreck as Count Orlok feasting on his victim

UK Eureka/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray screenshot

From the late 1910s onwards, it was the norm for major silent film productions to shoot with at least two cameras simultaneously. This gave greater flexibility during editing to select the best takes and angles. Two negatives, designated A and B, would be prepared, with the A negative, consisting of all the very best takes, used for domestic prints. The B negative, complete with flash titles (consisting of just a few frames, intended for translation), would be the source of all exported, foreign language prints. In Nosferatu’s case, to keep costs down only one camera was used. This of course resulted in only one original negative, which simplified things considerably when it came to its restoration. However, Nosferatu was almost lost completely and because of the variable quality of surviving materials[2], it can never look pristine. That is unless someone turns up an excellent condition early print – unlikely but you never know.

Another thing: Nosferatu was specifically designed and filmed with colour tinting in mind. And with very good reason: many scenes simply don’t make sense without it being present throughout. For instance, due to the ‘day for night’ filming of the era, Count Orlok often appears to be walking around in broad daylight. All original release prints were tinted and all restored versions have reinstated it. If you’re watching a black and white copy, stop it now – lest you make him angry!

Nosferatu (1922) Count Orlok portrait by Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine illustrator Basil Gogos, 2000

Count Orlok by Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine illustrator Basil Gogos, 2000

As far as good quality home video versions go, the very first was courtesy of US film restorer David Shepard of Film Preservation Associates and owner of the former Blackhawk Films library. In 1991 he prepared a copy of a print in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) that is largely complete and in good condition, by adding new English intertitles, his own colour tinting scheme and an organ score. This version was released that same year on a landmark LaserDisc and later appeared on a 1998 Image DVD[4], followed by several others.

Nosferatu (1922) victim storyboard by Albin Grau

Storyboard by Albin Grau

Shepard subsequently acquired a digital B&W copy of the 1987 European restoration (more about that in a minute), which was based on the same source as the MoMA print. This restoration had better image quality, so with a few edits and again adding his own tints, he used it to upgrade his previous version. This was then released on a 2001 “Remastered Special Edition” Image DVD.

Although Shepard’s versions have been superseded by more complete, bigger budgeted restorations they still hold up very well and are worthy of your attention.

Over the years the few surviving prints of Nosferatu suffered many reductions in length due to damage, censorship, and reissue cuts. In 1981 Enno Patalas, then head of the Filmmuseum München, in conjunction with the Cineteca di Bologna, oversaw the first concerted attempt at restoration. The resultant negative drew together prints from several different European archives and further improvements were made to it in 1984 and 1987. In 1995 Patalas overhauled the restoration completely, using a recently discovered original French print as its basis.

The 1995 restoration purportedly appears on a UK DVD via Eureka, with new English intertitles, though it almost certainly features the 1987 restoration instead.[5] The actual 1995 restoration has been released several times on disc. In the UK, David Gill (1928–1997), Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury of Photoplay Productions added new translated English intertitles, in a style very similar to the originals, and a new orchestral score.[6] This version was then broadcast in 1997 on Channel 4 and is the one featured on the BFI’s DVD and BD. A DVD from Kino in the US featured another set of new English intertitles. All of these were also accompanied by different scores. Then there’s the 2002 Spanish Divisa DVD which is different again. I warned you it would get complicated.

In 2005/2006 a completely new, digital, restoration was carried out by Luciano Berriatúa for the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung (FWMS), again in conjunction with various archives. Except for the BFI BD, this version is the one featured on all DVDs and BDs from 2007 onwards. You can see a fascinating side-by-side, before and after comparison of the entire 2006 restoration here. It clearly shows the sometimes shocking state even some of the best surviving materials are in and just what an incredible job the restorers really do.


Here’s a simplified timeline of Nosferatu’s restorations and home video versions:

  • 4th March, 1922 première version, length 1,967m
  • 1981 Patalas restoration, length 1,733m – 84min at 18fps; based on B&W French copy of a Czechoslovakian export print
  • 1984 Patalas restoration, length 1,733m – speculative tinting added
  • 1987 Patalas restoration, length 1,910m – 93min at 18fps; added missing footage and correct tinting, based on newly discovered original French print
    • 1991 Shepard version, film equivalent length 1,660m – 81min at 18fps; based on MoMA’s print: tinted with new intertitles
  • 1995 Patalas restoration, length 1,910.3m (incorrect longer lengths sometimes quoted are probably based on restoration work-in-progress) – 93min at 18fps; based on original French print
    • 2000 Shepard version, film equivalent length 1,660m – 81min at 18fps; based on 1987 restoration: retinted edit with new intertitles
  • 2005/6 Berriatúa restoration, length 1,914m – 93min at 18fps; based on original French print

Ellen storyboard by Albin Grau

Storyboard by Albin Grau

The 1995 and 2006 restorations are then, the most complete and recently restored versions available and both reinstate the film’s original five-act structure. They’re quite distinct, but strangely the later one does not advance upon the earlier in every area, as you might presume. Each has a few frames of footage here and there that is missing from the other, although they’re a similar length overall. As well as missing snippets they both contain some small editing goofs.[7]

The 1995 restoration follows the film’s original tinting scheme, but though authentic it has minor inconsistencies which were ironed out in 2006.[8] For instance, Hutter’s darkened hotel room is tinted in an amber shade, indicating indoor light, seconds before the innkeeper’s wife enters bearing a lit candle. In the 2006, the room is initially tinted in green (as opposed to the more usual blue), denoting darkness. The latter restoration also amends the colour palette somewhat and variations can be found in the framing and image consistency of the two. When comparing the BFI (1995) and all other (2006) BDs, sometimes one has more information in the frame, sometimes the other. Remember both are a very different patchwork of variable prints: they only share some of their footage from the same sources. Therefore, it’s impossible to judge either by a handful of screenshots on some comparison sites. Lastly, they differ in the style of their intertitles. The 1995 has completely recreated German intertitles, but these only appear on a long-deleted Spanish DVD; the US and UK releases replace them with one of two sets of new English titles. The 2006 has the original German intertitles, with digitally reconstructed facsimiles of the missing ones; the latter are discerned by the initials FWMS in the lower left corner.

One thing’s for sure: even allowing for the state of the extant materials, neither of the most recent restorations are close to perfect. There’s room for yet further improvement and given Count Orlok’s undying popularity (pun wholly intended), one day it’s bound to happen.


So many scores – but which is best?

Nosferatu really has seen just about every type of musical accompaniment imaginable; far more than any other silent film. The restored DVDs and BDs alone have six very different scores between them. While researching this article I came across well over 50 custom recorded scores on VHS and DVD; I’m sure they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Fair enough: the film’s in the public domain and people are free to interpret its imagery in any way they please. Furthermore, constant contemporary rescoring can help keep silents alive for new generations to enjoy. Despite all that, most would agree that a classical score is pretty much Nosferatu’s de facto option, especially when screening or marketing it for the broadest possible audience.

Nosferatu 4th March, 1922 première souvenir programme by Albin Grau

4th March, 1922 première souvenir programme by Albin Grau

Hans Erdmann

Prana reportedly spent more on Nosferatu’s lavish 4th March 1922 première and its marketing than they did making the film itself; another factor driving them towards bankruptcy. On that august occasion it had a specially commissioned score by Hans Erdmann, who later also scored The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933). Erdmann’s première score is long since lost, but he later published part of it as an adapted 40 minute work, Fantastisch-romantische Suite (1926). In order to make it fit the film again it’s been reconstructed – twice:

German composer Berndt Heller’s initial reconstructed score, for salon (small) orchestra, made its début on the 20th February 1984, at the Berlin Film Festival première of Nosferatu’s second restoration. Heller continued to work on it and eventually copyrighted his reconstruction for full orchestra in 1994. He led performances of it at numerous live screenings over the following decade and conducted a 2006 recording by the Radio Symphony Orchestra Saarbrücken. This is the only score now sanctioned by the FWMS and has accompanied their 2006 restoration on all its numerous DVD and BD releases. Consequently it’s probably the best known of all.

The second reconstruction was completed in 1995 by composer/arranger James Kessler and Gillian Anderson, an American composer/conductor of dozens of well respected silent film scores. This version is likely the more authentic, as unlike Heller they had “access to Erdmann’s full, original orchestrations”, housed at the Library of Congress. It accompanied the 1995 restoration’s first screenings at the Cannes, Il Cinema Ritrovato and London film festivals that year. Anderson also led the Brandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra in a full recording for a long deleted CD which, for added completeness, kicks off with the overture from Heinrich Marschner’s Romantic opera Der Vampyr (1828), which preceded Nosferatu’s première screening. Though played live many times over the ensuing decades, Anderson’s score has never actually been wedded to the film on disc. Many consider it far superior to Heller’s effort and I’m inclined to agree. Thanks to a couple of enterprising souls, you can judge for yourself here and here.

Hans Posegga

Another important score is that of renowned German composer Hans Posegga (1917–2002). It accompanied the first television broadcast of the 1987 restoration on ZDF, 29th December 1988. Very highly regarded, though little known outside of Germany, its 38 cues have a combined runtime of 93 minutes. Sadly unissued at all on physical media, it is at least available to hear via download.

James Bernard

The other most noteworthy classical score actually available on home video is by James Bernard (1925–2001), best remembered for scoring many of Hammer Films’ most famous horrors. These include their 1950s Quatermass ‘trilogy’, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958), with the latter being third of the foremost unholy trinity out of around 300 (and counting) onscreen depictions of Stoker’s most inspired creation. Bernard’s own symphony of horror had its première at a screening on the 17th November 1997 at London’s Royal Festival Hall, with Nic Raine conducting the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The same ensemble then made a studio recording; it’s been released on CDred vinyl double LP and download, and accompanies Photoplay’s version on the BFI BD and DVD.

Worth noting are that two other late life commissions for Bernard were the documentaries Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror (1994) and Photoplay’s Universal Horror (1998, available here). Both are feature-length surveys of the output for which the studios are best known. Universal Horror makes Bernard the only person, other than Stoker himself, to have a direct creative tie to all three of the screen’s best known Draculas. He was all set to capitalise on his latterday career renaissance via further collaborations with Photoplay, among others, but failing health precluded any more major projects coming to fruition. He talks in detail about the creation of Nosferatu’s score in this 1996 interview, while there’s a three-part career-spanning 1996 interview here, here and here.

Nosferatu (1922) James Bernard score, Silva Screen red vinyl double LP

Nosferatu (1922) James Bernard score, Silva Screen red vinyl double LP

Best of the Rest

The remaining most notable scores, accompanying all other restored versions on DVD, are:

Nosferatu (1922) Dawn Edition poster by Timothy Pittides, 2015

Nosferatu (1922) Dawn Edition poster by Timothy Pittides, 2015


Restored Blu-rays and DVDs: a complete list

The number of low quality public domain[3] Nosferatu DVDs easily runs into the hundreds, but this is a listing of every known restored release (including VHS tapes and LaserDiscs) and they range from the very good to the sublime. 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.

Note that every release has been transferred at 18fps, bar the BFIs at 19fps. Some of the PAL DVDs also have 4% speed-up.

1987 restoration – 92min; used by mistake: Eureka ordered a copy of the 1995 restoration; new English intertitles and Art Zoyd score

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

  • US: Image LaserDisc (1991) and DVD (1998)
    • Kino VHS (1991) – “Collector’s Edition”
  • UK: Eureka VHS (1999)
  • Australia: Force Video DVD (1999) and VHS (1997)
    • Siren Visual DVD (2003) – 20n1: paired with Vampyr (1932, 62m)

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

It was also 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” – avoid both.

2000 David Shepard version – 81min edited retint of the 1987 restoration, with English intertitles by Eureka

  • US: Image remastered DVD (2001) – similar sleeve design to 1998 Image DVD but cover pic toned red instead of grey; Timothy Howard and Silent Orchestra scores
    • Kino VHS (2000) – “Definitive Edition”; Silent Orchestra score

2006 restoration – all 94–95min (incl. 2min+ of restoration credits) and with Erdmann/Heller score; all have original/partially recreated German intertitles but the 2-disc Kino and Madman sets additionally sport 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.

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.


Blu-ray round-up: comparison and summary

November 2016: this article is kept constantly updated and became too big for a single post, so I’ve split the comparisons off here:

It’s hard to imagine that for so many years, right from its peak première presentation, Nosferatu 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 release of the pivotal Atlas Film version. Things improved steadily until today, when, as with so many other silents, we are truly 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 need never return to those dark days of yesteryear. I’ll never 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!

Count Orlok portrait by Daniel Crossland, 2010

Count Orlok portrait by Daniel Crossland, 2010


Notes

[1] Filming locations

Filming took place between AugustOctober 1921, with the interiors being built by Albin Grau at Jofa-Atelier studios, Berlin-Johannisthal. For the exteriors, rather than go to the trouble and expense of travelling over 1,000 miles to the real former Transylvania, now part of Romania, Murnau and his crew shot much closer to home. Neighbouring Slovakia doubled for „das Land der Diebe und Gespenster“ (“the land of thieves and ghosts”), with Orava Castle providing the setting for Orlok’s lair. The north German cities of Lübeck and Wismar stood in for Wisborg; the former’s Salzspeicher (salt warehouses) gave Orlok the perfect vantage point from which to spy on Ellen. Nosferatu expert Martin H. Larsen recently travelled to all three places and posted two fascinating series of then-and-now photographs: Nosferatour 2014 – Lübeck and Wismar and Nosferatour 2015 – Slovakia. Also recommended are Martin Votruba’s excellent webpages about the Slovakian locations, here and here.

[2] Surviving prints

In print and online, there is a lot of outdated or incorrect information regarding Nosferatu’s known extant original prints. In particular, the myth that only one illicit print survived, smuggled out from under Florence’s nose, gets repeated everywhere. It may make for a juicier story but the truth is far more mundane. This is the latest data, correct as of November 2015.

  • B&W French print from the late 1930s/early 1940s and in very good condition overall. A copy of a Czechoslovakian export print from the 1920s that was seized by the Nazis and is now lost. The background of this print has only been unravelled in recent years (see below), hence many sources still refer to it as a 1926/27 “second French version” or similar. The Czech intertitles had already been replaced with German ones and it was shipped like this to the Cinémathèque Française. At the French archive the German intertitles were then replaced with French ones, after which MoMA got a copy. This is the basis for the 1981 restoration negative and thus indirectly for the 1984 and 1987 restorations, since they improved on that. Also, via MoMA’s copy, the source of all public domain versions, as detailed below. Preserved at the Cinémathèque Suisse.
  • B&W 1962 safety copy of the original 1922 German version. Incomplete and in poor shape but retains all the original German-language intertitles, except for those denoting the beginning and end of each act. Preserved at the former East German Staatliches Filmarchiv der DDR, incorporated in 1990 into the Bundesarchiv (BArch or German Federal Archives).
  • B&W early 1940 safety copy of the previously mentioned Czech print, almost identical to the shorter French print held by the Cinémathèque Suisse. For the 2006 restoration Berriatúa used this German print rather than the Cinémathèque Suisse print to fill in missing scenes, as he found it to be of better quality. Also at the Bundesarchiv.
  • B&W 1930 German sound reissue, re-edited and retitled Die zwölfte Stunde (The Twelth Hour). Contains some newly shot footage and had sound-on-disc accompaniment of music and sound effects only: no dialogue. Contains some missing and better condition shots than the above prints. At the Cinémathèque Française.
  • Tinted original 1922 French release (1,900m) print, identified by Luciano Berriatúa at the Cinémathèque Française on 8th October 1984. In generally good condition and used as the basis for the 1995 and 2006 restorations, with the other prints used to fill in missing scenes. Though much faded, it is the only surviving print with original tinting and allowed the restoration team to ascertain exactly where each colour had been applied.
  • Poor condition B&W Spanish print of Die zwölfte Stunde from 1930 held by the Filmoteca Española. The Spanish title is Nosferatu and it no longer contains any of the later-added scenes of the sound version.
  • The Cinémathèque Française has another print not mentioned above, as does the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique. Their provenance is unconfirmed but it’s possible both are copies of the Cinémathèque Suisse print.

Following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia begun in 1938, the Nazis confiscated a Czech print which then came into the possession of Reichsfilmarchiv, the Nazi era state film archive. In 1945 its stock was either destroyed or seized by the Soviet army, explaining why so many western films are now held in Russian archives. Prior to that at least two copies were made that are still extant. One is now at the Bundesarchiv (the longer of the German prints) and the other was sent to the Cinémathèque Française in 1942 or 1943. The latter print is the B&W, shorter French version from which MoMA got a copy in 1947. For some reason this French print eventually ended up in the Cinémathèque Suisse, where it still resides today.

Both the Bundesarchiv prints were only used for the 2006 restoration, even though Patalas was familiar with the shorter version and used it to recreate the original intertitles in 1995. Where possible, Berriatúa chose to use the original intertitles directly in 2006.

[3]Public domain version

Though it has occasionally been further edited or sped up on some budget home video releases, there is only one original public domain version, from which all others are obtained. It is derived from the copy obtained by MoMA in 1947 of the Cinémathèque Suisse print, which is in turn a copy of a Czech export print. On acquisition, MoMA replaced the then-new French intertitles with English ones in anachronistic Futura font and, as per Nosferatu’s first US release in 1929, all the character names were reverted to the ones in the original novel. Count Orlok becomes Count Dracula, Ellen and Hutter become Nina [sic] and Jonathon [sic] Harker, etc. These intertitles have been translated via each other from the original German into Czech, back into German, then into French and (almost) finally into English – yet somehow they still make sense!

On home video it usually runs for around 63min at a way-too-fast 24 fps (sound speed) and 84min at the correct 18 fps. It’s most frequently accompanied by a classical/synth score from prolific German composer Peter Schirmann, added by German distributors Atlas Film in 1965. As well as retaining the MoMA print’s English intertitles, Atlas translated them yet again, back into both German and French. In case you’ve lost track, that means at minimum, they were changed from the original German to Czech-German-French-English-German and French, with each step being a translation of the one before. Incroyable. Atlas Film’s German version was broadcast on television by ARD on 23rd June 1969 and released on VHS video in 1981. Much bootlegged, it has by far the best score appearing on any mass-produced public domain home video release, but it is synched to a transfer running at 24fps/63min. Some copies slow it down to the correct 18fps/84min, but the score is then commensurately slow – and somehow unsynchronised to boot. The first and still-best quality transfer of the English Atlas version was on the 2000 Elite Entertainment DVD. Elite’s disc was later copied for the 2003 Hollywood Classics [sic] DVD from opportunistic public domain company Madacy, who recycled it again on their four film (!) Cult Classics Collection DVD. Of course, Schirmann’s score, and probably Atlas’ French and German intertitles, are anything but public domain. It’s likely they’ve long since decided against exploiting their version further by reissuing it officially, due to its general proliferation and in the face of so many superior restored versions. You can see Atlas Film’s English version on YouTube.

As you’d expect, wherever it’s to be found, the public domain version is in far poorer visual quality than any of the restored versions and almost invariably only in untinted B&W. It’s also severely cropped on all sides, especially so on the left edge of the Atlas version, where they added the optical soundtrack. Heads are constantly cut off in all prints, most notably that of Orlok when he rises from his coffin.

[4] David Shepard versions

“We started with a 35mm negative made from MoMA’s material that they had obtained in the 1940s from the Cinémathèque Française. We did our own translations based upon the German censor cards. The organ score by Tim Howard (that I like a lot) bears no relation to the Erdmann score that I then did not know about. As the source material was B&W, the choice of tints was my own invention. We first issued this version in 1991 on LaserDisc, with an excellent second track audio essay by Lokke Heiss. Our first DVD release was identical in content. At that time this version was much better than anything else available on video, at least in North America. I did not provide this to any other distributor although I have no doubt that as with much of my work, people helped themselves to it for republication.

Digital restoration at that time was very crude. We probably used digital vision noise reduction and removed some visible splices and cue marks but these were about the only tools then available. I have not gone back to check but I think we superimposed a loop of film dirt on the new titles so they wouldn’t look too much like video in relation to the rather battered appearance of the original film.

A few years later, in 2001, we reissued the DVD with almost identical cover art. By then Dr. Heiss had visited the filming locations and was able to revise and improve his contribution. I was also given friendly but informal access to a digital master of a European restoration of the image that was better than what we previously had, so I used it, with two or three very small accommodations to fit it to our existing score.” – David Shepard, 7th November 2015

[5] Eureka 2-DVD set (2001)

In 2000 Eureka requested a copy of the then-latest (tinted 1995) restoration  for PAL DVD release from licensors Transit Film. However, Eureka founder/owner Ron Benson (1943–2015) later claimed they were instead unknowingly supplied with an older B&W digital NTSC transfer. If true, the resulting unconverted NTSC-PAL DVD, with its 92 minute runtime, seems very likely to be a copy of the 1987 restoration. Also supporting this is the fact that the Eureka transfer does not have the erroneously repeated footage of the 1995 restoration, when Hutter looks out of his window at Orlok loading a cart. The 1981, 1984 and 1987 restorations used a different print as their basis than the 1995 restoration. IML Digital Media, an Australian company, handled the preparation of this copy for Eureka, minimising the effects of the NTSC-PAL conversion and creating a new set of calligraphic English intertitles.

Eureka’s set had a sepia toned version on the first disc and a partially tinted version on the second: the first 12min play in B&W, then the first tinted sequence appears, after which it alternates between B&W and tinted sequences. It also had a commentary by Lokke Heiss which was similar to the one on the 2001 Image DVD:

“The Eureka DVD used a version of my commentary track, but read by a professional announcer. It gave me the chance to make corrections on my original commentary. I sent them a manuscript of my revised commentary (which is now more than 20 years old – *groan* – then the bright young lads at Eureka ‘forgot’ to put my name on the credits. Such is show business.” – Lokke Heiss, 21st November 2015

[6] Photoplay version
“The Bernard score had started out as a project for Silva Screen Records, who had successfully recorded a number of James Bernard’s Hammer scores. Nic Raine, who had conducted these, had also worked on a number of our projects, both as arranger for Carl Davis and composer in his own right. Silva Screen had commissioned Bernard to compose a complete score for Nosferatu, then realised they knew little about the actual film side of things and invited us to collaborate. We met with James, and were very impressed with the early drafts of his score. Our enthusiasm was shared by Channel 4, who agreed that Nosferatu would be chosen as that year’s Channel 4 Silent. So the recording was planned from the outset to provide both a complete score for our film release and a CD-length selection for Silva Screen, i.e. the CD uses the same recording.
The final edit of the full length version of the score, in synch with the film, was completed four days before [my friend and colleague] David Gill’s sudden death.
After Universal Horror, James was going to score our next documentary, Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces, but had to withdraw when his health started failing. Nic Raine scored it instead.” – Patrick Stanbury, 26th November 2015

[7] Restoration editing errors

Both the 1995 and 2006 restorations have inconsequential editing variations in terms of missing frames and the exact placement of title cards, but they also have a trio of minor flubs between them:

  • In the 1995, Hutter is looking out of a window at Orlok loading a cart when a one-second-long shot of him appears too early. There’s a cutaway to Orlok then back to Hutter, where said second repeats, this time in its correct place, before running as intended. On the BFI BD it’s at 0:37:48.
  • The 2006 actually manages to invert a brief shot of Slovakian Jánošíkove diery (Janosik holes), which are usually incorrectly referred to as a waterfall. In the shot, the water is clearly running upside down! On the Eureka BD it’s at 0:35:24.
  • The 2006 has a second editing error which is similar to the one afflicting the 1995. In a long shot of the town crier walking down the street, there is a jump and the image repeats itself momentarily. On the Eureka BD it’s at 1:16:24.

In early 2016 Patrick Stanbury revisited Photoplay’s version to perform some additional clean-up. As a result of this article, he also fixed the editing error! This improved version is now being used for their DCP and will replace the version currently on the BFI DVD and BD, should they ever be reissued.

[8] Tinting variations

The tinting varies greatly between the 1995 and 2006 restorations. In addition, the DVDs featuring each restoration differ from their BD counterpart.

The tints differ for three reasons: 1) Different conclusions made by Patalas and Berriatúa regarding the original tints, 2) the choice between keeping to the original (but illogical) tints in one scene or correcting it, and 3) different methods of applying the tints to the final prints and digital versions.

1) The tinted original 1922 French release print, used for reference, has all its different colours varying in hue. Patalas made the assumption that the colour for night-time, varying from blue to an almost green blue, was supposed to be two different colours; blue for night exteriors and green for unlit night interiors. Berriatúa concludes that the variations in hues are merely due to the printing and dye tinting techniques used, and that there is only supposed to be one hue of each colour. Hence night exteriors and unlit interiors are all supposed to be the same, namely greenish blue.

2) In the tinted French print, the section where Hutter leaves the inn and travels into the mountains does not really make sense regarding the tints. Hutter leaves the inn at dawn (pink, normally used for dusk and dawn), travels into the mountains at dawn (pink), remarks that the sun is setting (whereafter the film changes to yellow, normally used for daylight!) and arrives at the castle at night (greenish blue). Patalas saw this as an error in the French print and chose to correct it in the 1995 restoration: Hutter leaves the inn during daytime (yellow), remarks that the sun is setting (change to pink) and arrives at the castle during night (blue, as per Patalas’ conclusion about nighttime exteriors). For his 2006 restoration, Berriatúa agrees that the original tinting is illogical but chose to leave it as was, since it could not be concluded for certain that there is an error in the print.

3) Another difference in tinting is the saturation of the colours. When producing tinted 35mm positive prints of both the 1995 and 2006 restorations for theatrical release, the Desmetcolor method was used, meaning that exact colour replication is not achieved. This resulted in both sets of prints having overly saturated colours. For DVD versions of both the 1995 and 2006 restorations the tints were applied digitally, using (too saturated) tinted positive prints as colour reference. For Blu-ray versions of the 2006 restoration the tinted French print was used as colour reference, meaning that they represent the colours most accurately. – Martin H. Larsen, 13th November 2016

[9] Type O Negative Soundtrack DVD

Though it’s impossible to cover every public domain DVD, a dishonourable mention must go to what is probably the biggest-selling one of all, Nosferatu: The First Vampire [sic]. It was issued in the US in 1998 and again in 2006, with the same content, and the soundtrack consists of songs by seminal goth rock band Type O Negative. They were used without permission from the band who, despite the DVD’s popularity, understandably refused to promote or even publicly acknowledge it. Following a 3 minute introduction by actor David Carradine, it utilises a shockingly bad print: a god-awful, VHS-quality rip that’s jumpy, badly scratched and incorrectly plays at sound speed, 24fps, so everyone’s whizzing around like the film’s on fast-forward. Thankfully, this has the positive effect of getting the whole sorry spectacle over and done with in 66min, including the tacked-on three minute intro. If the music ever ‘matches’ the onscreen action at all it’s more by luck than judgment. You’d be much better off buying one of the restored DVDs listed above, turning the volume down and simply playing a Type O album over it. If you’re still curious despite all that, don’t waste your money – watch it on YouTube instead.

RIP Peter Steele (January 4, 1962 – April 14, 2010)


If you liked this, you’ll love:

See DVDCompare for more in-depth details on any of the discs mentioned.

Any questions or suggestions? Post in the comments.


Grateful thanks to Lokke Heiss, Martin H. Larsen, David Shepard and Patrick Stanbury for their help with this article.

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About Brent Reid

I started Brenton Film because I love silent film – quelle surprise! For more, see this site's About page.

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18 Comments on "Nosferatu: The Ultimate Blu-ray and DVD Guide"

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Silents, Please
Member
My hat is off to you Brent – fantastic post! The amount of research done and time spent on this article is clear. Great, great job. Regarding pulldown patterns in the BDs. So, Eureka is converting 18fps to 24fps via a 1:1:2 ratio (i.e., frame pattern of 1233 4566 7899, etc …), but Kino is doing 1:2:1:2:1:2:3 + a deletion (i.e., frame pattern of 122 344 566 777 8 and so on)? Wow … just terribly botched, and strangely so, because repeating every third frame would be so much more simple. I like what you’ve written about the BFI BD… Read more »
Dave S.
Member

Thanks for such an informative web page!

The 4th March, 1922 première version was 1,967m and the 2005/6 Berriatúa restoration is 1,914m. So 53 meters of 35mm film still missing. At 18fps, I believe that works out to 1 minute and 30 seconds of missing footage. Does anyone know what we are missing? Are there any surviving scripts or other documentation on what is missing? Anything significant, or is it just trimmings off existing scenes?

Paul Bielatowicz
Guest
Hi Brent, thanks so much for putting together such an in depth, thorough and fascinating read. I’m a musician interested in scoring for silent films. I’m currently writing a score for Nosferatu to be performed live with the movie later this year. I’m trying to get a definitive answer about which version of the film I can use without violating copyright. I’m planning a DVD release, so need to be careful not to infringe any copyright laws. Obviously I’ll be adding my own soundtrack, but am also planning on replacing all the text, inter titles and credits. Am I right… Read more »
Francis L.
Guest

Quebec, Canada doesn’t seem to be happiest place for those wanting decent Blu-rays of Nosferatu and Chaplin films :'( but your work was very interesting in all its aspects! Keep up the good work

Steve
Member

This is an amazing review , I can’t thank you enough for such a extensive article about this classic movie . I have the MOC bluray and been thinking about importing the BFI as well . Any more thoughts about when they may release the updated bfi blu since there has been more work done in 2016 ? What is DCP ? Thanks again .

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