David Shepard and Eureka Versions
- After years of cult popularity, Nosferatu finally made its quality home video début
- Its source was the same print that spawned the so-called “public domain version”
- The renowned silent film champion behind many such releases was responsible
- His reward? Seeing his work get ripped off by greedy UK and Australian pirates
- They included one of the world’s best loved and acclaimed home video labels
- Some of the remorseless thieves are still stealing this and others to this day
- Elsewhere, careless mistake leads to only official release of 1987 restoration
This is one of a series of articles covering everything Graf Orlok and best 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 restored DVD and Blu-ray reviews.
David Shepard versions
Prior to the 1990s, all circulating copies of Nosferatu were rather poor, as still evidenced by the many bargain basement DVDs around today. They were, at best, straight transfers of the B&W, sped-up, 1965 German Atlas Films version, with its original Peter Schirmann score occasionally replaced with an inferior one. The first quality home video release was courtesy of US-based David Shepard, owner of the former Blackhawk Films library, founder of Film Preservation Associates – and all-round silent film champion. In 1991, he prepared a unique copy of the largely complete, good condition 1947 MoMA print. He added new English intertitles, his own tinting scheme, a custom score and last but not least, transferred it at the correct speed of 18fps.
This version was released that same year on VHS, soon followed by a LaserDisc (LDDb), and later on a landmark 1997 Image DVD. This was, I believe, only the second silent film to be released on DVD, edged out by one week by David’s own Phantom of the Opera (1925). He subsequently acquired a copy of Eureka’s version based on the 1987 restoration, which was itself based on the source copy of 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 then appeared on a remastered Image DVD with similar cover art to the previous edition but this time rendered in red. Although both his versions have been superseded by more complete, bigger budgeted restorations, the latter in particular still holds up very well and is worth seeking out.
David Shepard, 7th November 2015:
“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 [actually anywhere]. 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 2000/2001, 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.”
In 1999 Eureka requested a copy of the then latest (1995 tinted) restoration for UK PAL DVD release from licensors Transit Film. However, Eureka founder/owner Ron Benson (1943–2015) later stated they were instead unknowingly supplied with an older B&W digital NTSC transfer. Their resulting unconverted NTSC-PAL DVD, with its 92 minute runtime, is therefore almost certainly a copy of the 1987 restoration. Though we now have another restoration, from 2006, at that time there was no other full length version in existence. 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. This because the 1981, 1984 and 1987 restorations used a different print as their basis than the 1995. An Australian company, IML Digital Media, handled the preparation of this copy for Eureka, minimising the effects of the NTSC-PAL transfer and creating a new set of calligraphic English intertitles.
Eureka’s set has a unique sepia toned version on the first disc and a tinted and toned version on the second, erroneously titled the “original black and white version”. Aside from a few of the intertitles, there is no black and white in it at all. Though they share the same source print, the tinting schemes on the Image and Eureka are quite distinct from each other. However, they both have similar colours and shades, with similarly logical placement. For instance, they use light and dark sepias for daytime outdoor and most indoor scenes, dusky pink for dawn and dusk, blue or blueish-purple for outdoor night-time scenes, and so on.
The Eureka DVD also had an audio commentary which was similar to the ones on the Image discs. Lokke Heiss, 21st November 2015:
“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.”
In 2000, Lokke Heiss visited the filming locations and shot a 10-minute “NosferaTour” then-and-now featurette. It was included on the second Image and Eureka DVDs, and he’s now uploaded it to YouTube:
A tale of two pirates
The thieves David’s discreetly alluding to above were actually Eureka and their antipodean partners (in crime) at the time, Force Video. Yes, I’m referring to that Eureka – of Masters of Cinema fame. They and their cohorts stole David’s first version and released it on these pirates:
- Eureka VHS (1997), also paired w/The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) – Nos from Shepard LD, Cal from this LD
- Force Video 2-pack VHS (1997) – as above
When Eureka first started in 1998, like Force Video, started in 1986, they were a fly-by-night outfit who mostly released cheap, supposedly public domain material – much of it David’s – but in much lower quality than the original. Their joint 108-minute version of Buster Keaton‘s The General (1926), which correctly runs at around 75 minutes, is one for the ages. Did you know Nosferatu stars “Gustavvon Wanenheim”, while Caligari features Alfred Abel and Brigitte Helm (actually the stars of Metropolis, 1927)? Well, according to the erroneously credited Force VHS set above, they do. Eureka and Force had been blatantly stealing David’s restorations for some time, but Nosferatu was the final straw and it led to him threatening them with legal action. Thankfully all parties quickly settled their differences: David agreed to accept compensation and an offer for Force and Eureka to become official licensees of his material, on condition they immediately deleted all offending releases.
The first fruit of this new arrangement were the 2000-revamped Nosferatus detailed above, with many more successful releases of classic films ensuing over the years. Of course, Eureka also upped their game considerably: in 2004 they started collaborating with the founders of the original Masters of Cinema website, and in 2008 acquired the brand wholesale. This was part of a conscious strategy to move upmarket and it paid off, with them swiftly rising to become one of the most respected home video labels in the world. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
And Force? Well, they were bought out by the then upcoming label Beyond Home Entertainment in 2006 and promptly renamed Force Entertainment, before being eventually folded into the parent company. Beyond, by the way, are now one of the leading labels in Oz – another lesson, methinks. Meanwhile, the two founders of Force, one of whom is Tony Romeo, left Force/Beyond in 2007 and set up Bounty Entertainment. But they’re back up to their old tricks. A quick glance at their site will reveal, nestled amid some possibly legit product, a huge roster of ripped-off but prettily packaged silents, classic talkies and sundry modern cult films. By a very circuitous coincidence, as recently as 2017 they even squatted out a DVD of Nosferatu. It features an uncredited rip of the latest 2006 restoration with the original 5.1 surround score clumsily folded down to mono. Some people just never learn.
By the way, Force, Bounty and others all link up somewhere along the line. These “companies” frequently merge, rename themselves and reissue each others’ releases, much as with Spanish, Italian and German pirates. I strongly suspect in many cases they’re just a front for the same few thieving bloodsuckers. They may be profiting handsomely from their parasitic crimes in this world, but let’s hope they’re destined for an afterlife where Orlok and his kin are waiting eagerly to receive them, and repay them in kind.
If you like this, you’ll love:
- Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide: Genesis of a Vampire
- Part 2: 1920s Screenings
- Part 3: Surviving Prints and “Public Domain Version”
- Part 4: 1981–1987 Restorations
- Part 5: David Shepard and Eureka Versions
- Part 6: 1995 and 2006 Restorations
- Part 7: Serenading the Undead: So Many Scores
- Part 8: The Many Faces of Orlok: Restored Versions on Blu-ray and DVD
- Nosferatu Unleashed in HD: Every Blu-ray Reviewed
- Nosferatu History and Home Video Guide: Die zwölfte Stunde (1930)
- Nosferatu: Chronicles from the Vaults – reprints of rare articles
- Nosferatu Rises: Reincarnated in Sound