Nosferatu Unleashed in HD: Every Blu-ray Reviewed

  • Nosferatu (1922), the earliest surviving screen version of Dracula, is one of the most popular of all silent films
  • Issued countless times on VHS, LaserDisc and DVD, Count Orlok now materialises on a clawful of Blu-rays
  • They’re all very different, both in terms of image and extra features
  • For the first time, here’s a detailed breakdown and review of each one

This review was originally part of Nosferatu: The Ultimate Blu-ray and DVD Guide; go there for the film’s general background and release history, including all other home video formats. It was split off in November 2016 (after over 5,000 views), as both are constantly updated and had grown too big for a single post.

There have been many great quality DVD releases of the restored versions of this timeless vampire tale and for a long time, film fans thought it couldn’t get any better. But then Blu-ray came along and even for a worn, battered old journeyman like Count Orlok, audio and video quality shot up immensely. As of 2016, five very different Blu-rays (BDs) are available, but which is the best one to buy? The quick answer is… it’s a tie: there are three joint winners and one in close fourth place. Sadly there’s one also-ran, which barely gets off the starting blocks.

Nosferatu (1922) by Dustin Condie aka DCon, 2014

Count Orlok by Dustin Condie, 2014


Contents


Eureka/Masters of Cinema

Nosferatu (1922) UK Eureka-Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

UK Eureka/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

  • 2006 restoration of film with Hans Erdmann score
  • Audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
  • Audio commentary by film historian R. Dixon Smith and critic Brad Stevens
  • The Language of Shadows: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and His Films (1996–1998/2007) documentary (52:34)
  • Interview with filmmaker Abel Ferrara (12:18)
  • Interview with BFI Classics: Nosferatu author Kevin Jackson (19:41)
  • 56-page booklet featuring essays and photos
  • Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
  • Soundtrack: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 stereo
  • Also available in a BD/DVD set with steelbook case


Spain: Divisa

Nosferatu (1922) Spanish Divisa Blu-ray

Spanish Divisa Blu-ray

  • 2006 restoration of film with Hans Erdmann score
  • El lenguaje de las sombras: Primeros años y Nosferatu (The Language of Shadows: First Years and Nosferatu, 1996–1998/2007) (53min)
  • El lenguaje de las sombras: Murnau: Las primeras películas (Murnau: The First Films, 1996–1998/2007) (31min)
  • Los vampiros (The Vampires)
  • Anécdotas del rodaje (Anecdotes of filming)
  • La novela de Bran Stoker (Bram Stoker’s novel)
  • El verdadero Conde Drácula (The Real Count Dracula)
  • Galerías (Galleries)
  • Filmografías (Filmographies)
  • Fichas (Sheets/notes)
  • Original German intertitles with optional Spanish and Portuguese subtitles
  • Soundtrack: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 stereo
  • BD/DVD dual format set


UK: BFI

Nosferatu (1922) UK BFI Blu-ray

UK BFI Blu-ray

  • Photoplay version of 1995 restoration with James Bernard score
  • Christopher Frayling on Nosferatu (2001) featurette (24:08)
  • Le Vampire (1945) short directed by Jean Painlevé, with a new score by Saint Etienne’s Pete Wiggs (8:27)
  • The Mistletoe Bough (1904) short directed by Percy Stow (8:20)
  • Stills gallery (2:24)
  • 36-page booklet featuring essays and photos
  • New English intertitles
  • Soundtrack: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 stereo


Germany: Universum Film

Nosferatu (1922) German Universum Film Blu-ray

German Universum Film Blu-ray

  • 2006 restoration of film with Hans Erdmann score
  • The Language of Shadows: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and His Films (1996–1998/2007) documentary (52:37)
  • 8mm version of Nosferatu with music by Lucía Martínez (27:50)
  • BD-ROM section with promotional materials and texts by Albin Grau
  • Trailers: The Blue Angel (1930), M (1931), La Dolce Vita (1960), Midnight Lace (1960) and Double Indemnity (1944)
  • 20-page booklet
  • Original German intertitles
  • Soundtrack: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1


US: Kino

Nosferatu (1922) US Kino Blu-ray

US Kino Blu-ray – don’t even consider buying it!

  • 2006 restoration of film with Hans Erdmann score and new English intertitles
  • The Language of Shadows: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and His Films (1996–1998/2007) documentary (52:46)
  • Clips from Murnau’s films Journey into the Night (1921), The Haunted Castle (1921), Phantom (1922), The Finances of the Grand Duke (1924), The Last Laugh (1924), Tartuffe (1925), Faust (1926) and Tabu (1931)
  • New trailer (0:59)
  • Stills gallery (16 pages)
  • Second disc with same version of film as above but with original German intertitles and optional English subtitles
  • Soundtrack: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo

Listed for illustration only – do not buy this disc, for the reasons explained below. If you’re in a Blu-ray region A country and can’t play any of the region B discs above, the best DVD equivalents are this particular region 1 Kino and region 2 Eureka. Note that here too, the latter is far superior.


Review and Summary

Firstly, note that as of November 2016 there are no official BDs emanating from France, Italy or Spain. Several leading pirate companies have previously announced their own illicit versions, but the actual releases are unconfirmed. Whatever format you’re looking for, do not buy it if it isn’t on this list.

The race between the five official releases is a tie between the UK Eureka/Masters of Cinema and Spanish Divisa on one hand and the UK BFI (British Film Institute ) on the other. Germany’s Universum Film edition comes hot on their heels, but as for the US’s Kino: oh dear. It should be given a wide berth but more about that later. Note that these discs feature two distinct restorations: the BFI uniquely features the 1995 restoration as opposed to the more recent 2006 restoration of the others, but it is by no means inferior. Both draw from the same batch of surviving prints and are equally complete; they are best thought of as co-existing alternate versions. The four Euro editions are all coded for region B, so if you’re unable to play them it’s another good reason to get a region free set-up. As with its many scores, there have been a multitude of differing extra features on various Nosferatu releases over the years. Most of the best ones are shared between these four.

Nosferatu (1922) UK Eureka-Masters of Cinema Blu-ray, Orlok on carriage

Nosferatu (1922) UK Eureka-Masters of Cinema Blu-ray with its ubiquitous greenish night-time tinting. Hmm…

Clearly the Eureka and Divisa BDs vault ahead on extras but the BFI has a respectable amount too and anyone buying it should be more than satisfied. Minted from a brand new 2K scan supervised by Photoplay’s Patrick Stanbury, who originally worked on the film two decades ago, and the BFI’s Douglas Weir, it’s missing some text-based extras from their earlier DVD but adds two shorts and a stills gallery. An added bonus is the glossy 36-page booklet containing two highly readable articles: David Kalat on Nosferatu’s history and Brian J. Robb covering its occult origins. It’s rounded off with a couple of pages by James Bernard on his brilliant score.

Meanwhile, Eureka’s 2013 BD and DVD mark the third separate occasion they’ve released this film. This time around they’ve gained the Kalat commentary and two interviews over their most recent 2007 DVD set. Conversely, the booklet from that incarnation – complete with ridiculously small font that will be unreadable to many – is now slimmed down from 80 to 56 pages, dropping the No End to Nosferatu essay by Thomas Elsaesser. Don’t worry, you’re not missing much: it’s given to scholarly theorising and tedious over-analysis, with academic speak a-plenty. He also wrote a similar treatise for Sight and Sound magazine in 2001. Another essay remains by Gilberto Perez; with that too, its dryness is only matched by its length. More pretentious waffle comes courtesy of The Bridge by Craig Keller, which thankfully limits itself to just under two pages. Faring much better is a fascinating though likely fictitious piece on Nosferatu‘s origin by its principal creator, Albin Grau, first penned for the film’s première. Last up is a very insightful 1995 essay by Enno Patalas on his earlier restorations. Although packed with information, it doesn’t pertain in any way to the restoration actually on the disc; ironically it concerns the restoration on the BFI BD. Eureka obviously managed to nab it first, for inclusion on their 2007 DVD, but they really should have left it out for more appropriate inclusion elsewhere – like on said BFI BD. Never mind: it can also be read in its entirety here. Also gone from the Eureka BD is a fairly inconsequential 3min restoration featurette, but if you’re curious it can be viewed in low quality here.

Nosferatu (1922) UK Eureka-Masters of Cinema Blu-ray, Orlok reading letter

Nosferatu (1922) UK Eureka/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray, with perfect interior amber tinting.

Perhaps Eureka’s most significant extra, which accompanies every BD and DVD release of the 2006 restoration, is Luciano Berriatúa’s The Language of Shadows documentary (52:37). It’s very informative but seems quite oddly structured, concerning itself with Murnau’s early years right up to and including the filming of Nosferatu – and that’s it. This is because it’s actually part of a series of Language of Shadows documentaries covering the whole of Murnau’s life, which weigh in at a hefty total of 240min. They were originally titled El lenguaje de las sombras (1996–1998, despite some sources claiming 1995) and were written and directed by Luciano Berriatúa for Televisión Española, Madrid. The Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung (FWMS) acquired the rights to the Spanish language originals, dubbed them into German, carved them up fairly randomly and slapped a new copyright date of 2007 on the resultant fragments. These vary wildly in length from 6–54min and are included on various releases of Murnau’s films worldwide. The majority of the series remains unreleased and some of it is inevitably dated, especially as so many of Murnau’s films have been restored over the last couple of decades. However, it seems a shame, resorting to chopping up this impressive beast and releasing it in such a piecemeal, haphazard fashion. An added irony is that even the Spanish releases including it now have chopped-up, German-dubbed, Spanish-subtitled scraps of a documentary that was in Spanish in the first place. Hardly the best advert for preservation of original forms of works then.

Once again, the BFI BD features Nosferatu‘s excellent 1995 restoration, while the other four feature the latest (though not always superior) 2006 digital restoration; both are similarly complete. The 2006 restoration is very good but can occasionally have a tendency to look almost too clean and somewhat digitised. The BFI 1995 restoration has more visible damage and is often darker with fewer shadow details, but in its favour it has a more consistent image quality throughout. Because of having had less digital manipulation it often retains added detail and, subjectively speaking, looks somehow more ‘authentic’.

Nosferatu (1922) UK BFI Blu-ray, Wolfgang Heinz (L) as first mate and Max Nemitz as the captain

Nosferatu (1922) UK BFI Blu-ray; Wolfgang Heinz (L) as first mate and Max Nemitz as the captain. Tinting for dusk.

Regarding their respective colour schemes, though they both use the same tinted original print for reference, for technical reasons they vary greatly. Silent film tints are primarily used to denote the time of day and setting of individual scenes. Neither restoration is more ‘accurate’ than the other, but the 2006’s distinctive creamy palette takes a little getting used to. It also employs a too-deep amber for daytime scenes, which makes them look like the similarly-tinted night-time interiors. A brighter yellow for daytime, as commonly seen in silents of the period, would be far preferable and less confusing. Particularly jarring is its choice of a greenish shade, usually used to indicate intrigue or suspense, for all of the night scenes. There are a lot of them and here the 1995’s vivid – and more standard – blue is particularly missed.

The FWMS, who control the 2006 restoration, make it a condition that all home video releases carry their version of the original Hans Erdmann score, as well as the aforementioned Spanish/German documentary. While the Eureka’s accompaniment is very good, for my money the BFI’s  James Bernard score, newly remixed in 5.1 surround, is far more effective. The former, while a beautiful listening experience, from the outset often fails to invoke the requisite sense of dread, frequently seeming more suited to pastoral, fairytale-like imagery. With the latter, however, right from the dramatic, suspenseful opening credits you know you’re in a safe pair of hands. Bernard really delivers and makes Nosferatu actually feel like a horror film. Advantage BFI.

Personally, as with other silent film releases that offer a choice of soundtrack options on the same disc, I’m happy to own both and alternate between them on repeated viewings. The bottom line is that when it comes to extras related to the actual film, the Eureka takes the prize, though the BFI acquits itself very admirably overall. However, if screening Nosferatu with a pre-recorded soundtrack for others, especially non-silent film aficionados, I’d pick the BFI every time.

Nosferatu (1922) UK BFI Blu-ray, Orlok stalks the ship

Nosferatu (1922) UK BFI Blu-ray with night-time tinting. Nice.

The Divisa edition’s mostly unique extras are in Spanish, except for two German-language documentaries, and it has no English subtitles. As a bonus it also includes the first disc, containing the film, from their 2-DVD set. Unfortunately I speak little Spanish so can’t go into detail about its extras. I can confirm though that the other, more English-friendly releases I have of theirs are uniformly excellent. On the whole, Divisa as a company are something of an equivalent to Eureka or the BFI and can always be trusted to produce among the best releases possible.

Fourth place goes to the German Universum Film edition. In addition to The Language of Shadows and a 20-page booklet, it has an extensive text and image gallery. Another significant and unique extra is an 8mm cut-down ‘show at home’ print of Nosferatu (27:50). This gives an idea of the only way a relative few got to experience the film at all before the home video revolution. Even then they would have been missing a decent score; here one is newly provided by Spanish percussionist Lucía Martínez. Note that this disc’s contents are completely in German and it has no subtitles at all – or if you prefer, keine Untertitel.

Lagging behind in distant last place is the US region A Kino, with its only noteworthy extras being the documentary and a 16-page stills gallery. Instead, what it does have is a totally unnecessary second disc with another copy of the film. From the very start, Kino have had a habit of replacing any original foreign language intertitles with modern English ones. Here, their new English version is on the first disc, along with the extras, while the original German version is relegated to a second disc by itself. I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, at least they deserve some credit for including the original version for once, right?” Wrong: the German transfer is slightly cropped on the sides and is compromised badly elsewhere, but I’ll get to that. The English version, meanwhile, is softer, with less detail, and zoomed in, so is heavily cropped on all four sides. What’s more, via seamless branching, both language versions could easily have been incorporated on a single disc. Incidentally, we can give a pass on the replaced and translated intertitles on all pre-2006 releases: such versions produced a couple of decades ago were for a marketplace far less accustomed to silents, let alone foreign language ones. Nowadays it’s widely agreed that original is best – with subtitles if necessary. Kino is the only label I know of that not only still practises their replacement but actually makes it a blanket policy. There are some exceptions to this, as of late there have been several unaltered, originally-titled releases from them, but generally they keep reverting to form.

Nosferatu (1922) UK Eureka-Masters of Cinema Blu-ray, Salzspeicher (salt warehouses)

Nosferatu (1922) UK Eureka/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray. Its amber daylight tinting is too dark by half, but do enlarge it to see the great detail in the salt warehouses’ bricks!

Sadly Kino didn’t stop there: they actually mucked up both transfers; I’m going to have to get a little bit technical here but bear with me. Sound film and 1080p Blu-rays run at 24 frames per second (fps) and most silent films run between 16–22fps. Nosferatu’s optimum frame rate is 18fps, so to slow it down Eureka simply repeated/doubled every third frame, giving a pattern or ‘pulldown’ like this: 112 112 112. Easy, right? In motion, this formula is undetectable to most people. Now, for reasons known only to themselves, Kino often transfer their silent films to disc using some highly illogical methods. In the case of Nosferatu the pulldown is 12121230, 12121230. So you see, they repeated every other frame twice, then the seventh frame three times. Huh? As if that wasn’t enough, to make the resulting mess still fit into 24fps, they’ve then eliminated every eighth frame. This results in the complete loss of over 11% of Nosferatu’s frames. The outcome is that visible motion jitter, a juddery, stutter-like effect, is introduced throughout and a goodly chunk of the actual film is gone. The restorer’s job wholly undone. To look at it another way: the Kino is cut, throughout its length, and the Eureka is uncut. If we rejigged the Kino transfer to match the Eureka’s pulldown, it would run shorter by about 10 minutes. No thanks. All in all, an absolutely pathetic effort and total rip-off.

Many people, unaware of this issue, will just see a picture that on the whole has more resolution than a DVD and, lacking a superior comparison, just accept the jerkiness as being part of the ‘silent film experience’. NO! Such thinking is akin to the dark decades following the silent era, when they were rubbished as being uniformly amateurish, sped up, scratched, choppy cinematic daubings. That was before these more enlightened times of restoration and proper presentation. On the bright side, one thing it does well is demonstrate how films came to be termed ‘flickers’; it’s akin to watching a flick book version of Nosferatu. In fact, that’s the only thing it does well.

Nosferatu (1922) UK Eureka-Masters of Cinema Blu-ray, Orlok's death

Nosferatu (1922) UK Eureka/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray; Orlok gets his. Pinkish tinting for dawn.

I’d advise you to avoid the Kino travesty altogether and, if you already have it, stick to their earlier 2007 DVD. Do note that too, has its own set of problems, as with all Kino DVDs and their SD extras that are made from European masters. Also beware Kino’s corresponding 2013 DVD: it’s culled from the same master as its HD counterpart and is equally disastrous. Again, your best option is to go region free and import one of the Euro BDs. If you’re after the 2006 restoration and have region free DVD playback, at least get Eureka’s superior 2013 2-DVD set; their third. It’s region 2 coded but unlike both their earlier ones is in the NTSC format, so fully playable in the US and Canada. The only US DVD worth owning so far is Kino’s first (2002), featuring the 1995 restoration. Like Eureka, Kino have issued Orlok’s odyssey on three separate occasions but unlike Eureka, each one is worse than the last. Nosferatu is the flagship of Kino’s frequently brilliant silent film roster and their best selling title in that category; incredible to think they could treat it like this. I’m a strong advocate of always choosing the best quality restored, authorised releases but sometimes – thankfully very rarely – even they can be screwed up. Kino’s lacklustre effort gets my vote for the worst ‘official’ silent film Blu-ray and DVD to date.

The final verdict is that of the five restored, officially sanctioned BDs available, the only four worth your time and money are all region B coded. Go region free! Caps-a-holic.com have produced useful screenshot comparisons of the US, UK Eureka and German BDs, and the 2007 Eureka DVD.

Hmm… it occurs to me that as neither restoration is perfect, my ideal BD would have an image, editing and tinting that combined the best of the two. Music would be courtesy of James Bernard’s score and both versions of Hans Erdmann’s original. Via seamless branching it would have the 1995 and 2006 restorations’ two sets of original/partially recreated German intertitles, as well as Photoplay’s new English ones. For completeness’ sake it could include the latest set of new English intertitles too, as found on the Kino BD and Australian Madman 2-DVD set… Well, I can dream, can’t I?

The great news is there’s no denying that any of these BDs, bar the Kino, will allow you to see and hear Nosferatu in the best quality possible and certainly far better than anyone’s experienced since the 1920s. I’m sure Count Orlok would be pleased to know that though currently indisposed, he continues to seduce so many fresh, willing victims, all eager to fall under his deathless spell.


If you liked this, you’ll love:

Any questions or suggestions? Post in the comments.

Nosferatu (1922) poster by Ken Taylor, 2014

Nosferatu (1922) poster by Ken Taylor, 2014

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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2 Comments on "Nosferatu Unleashed in HD: Every Blu-ray Reviewed"

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Tom
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i recently attempted to watch kino, but i found the music apallingly horrid. the flute accompanying the stage coach as approaching orlocks castle seemed to want to create a comic effect. it was a travesty. are there any versions that feature music composed by someone who doesn’t think its necessary to create scene specific tunes for every scene. give me back dvorak’s from the new world as public domain generic score that was on tv the first time i saw this film many years ago.

wpDiscuz

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