Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide, Part 8

by Brent Reid

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

  • Count Orlok’s saga has metamorphosed through a bewildering variety of versions
  • The restored releases have a total of seven completely different transfers and scores
  • Edits, tints, scores, intertitles and extra features: literally dozens of variations available
  • Until now, choosing which to buy was devilishly difficult but be warned: true fans will want more than one

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.

Nosferatu (1922) by Mike Walton aka Quasilucid, 2011

Print by Mike Walton, 2011


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 more 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 are 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 uneven 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

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 versions, scores and extras. For the 2006 restoration, Eureka’s 2-DVD reissue (2013) and all Spanish (but non-English friendly) sets come out tops.

Blu-ray recommendations are dealt with separately: 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. Unrestored, but the first attempt at a decent presentation and well worth a look for the curious. There are numerous region free discs, but these are the original unaltered releases:

Every restored release is below; all have 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.

  • US: Kino VHS (1991) – “Collector’s Edition”

1987 restoration

92min; first complete version, with original tinting and intertitles; unreleased in its original form.

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

  • UK: Eureka 2-DVD (2000) – tinted and sepia versions
    • Eureka VHS (2000) – sepia version

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

  • US: Image remastered DVD (2000) – Timothy Howard and Silent Orchestra scores
    • Kino VHS (2000) – “Definitive Edition”; Silent Orchestra score
    • Image Prime Video

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

 BFI Player HD

2006 restoration

All 94½min (incl. 1½min of restoration credits) and with Erdmann/Heller compilation 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.

  • Benelux: Living Colour 2-DVD/alt (2008) and DVD/alt (2009, reissued 2013)
  • Czech Republic: AČFK/Levné knihy DVD/alt (2009) – vanilla disc, 2.0 stereo audio only
  • Australia: Madman 2-DVD (2008)

Though I own various other copies of the film, the mainstays of my collection are the BFI and Eureka/MoC BDs, the 2000 Eureka and Image DVDs, and the 2002 Kino DVD. To that, you can add a couple of discs with the Atlas Film version. These are the best English-friendly discs and between them they cover all the bases: a total of seven scores and six completely different transfers – seven if you count both the BFI and Kino versions of the 1995 restoration, with their different intertitles and framerates. For my own viewing, I usually rotate between all of them but when screening the film for others, the BFI BD is unquestionably my go-to disc.

Nosferatu Unleashed in HD: Every Blu-ray Reviewed

Transit Film, licensees of the 1987 and 1995 restorations, apparently sent out the wrong masters to the BFI and Eureka when they requested PAL copies of the 1995 for VHS and DVD release. Luckily for completists, Eureka fared worst and received a digital B&W copy of the otherwise-unissued 1987 restoration. But it was in NTSC, so as I explained 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.

The BFI got the right version, but also got an NTSC copy instead. This created issues when they mastered directly from NTSC-PAL, so consequently their DVD has a very soft, blurry transfer. 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 (almost) problem-free HD copy on BD or digital.

For some reason, Eureka’s original Masters of Cinema DVD from 2007 also has a very soft and blurry transfer, no better than the BFI’s. The 2006 restoration received a new HD scan and digital clean-up in 2013 to ready it for issuing on BD. Obviously, all releases, including DVDs, issued from this date on are best for this version.

In addition to the numerous bargain bin copies of the “public domain version”, there are various illicit copies of the licensed versions – obviously all should be avoided. For example, as explained previously, David Shepard’s initial versions were pirated by Eureka Entertainment (yes, really!) and Oz’s Force Video. Kino’s first DVD was copied by Oz’s Siren Visual for their 2on1 DVD (alt, 2003, w/Vampyr (1932) from this DVD). The 1995 restoration was also pirated on a couple of cropped, vertically-stretched French DVDs by inveterate crooks Films sans Frontières. Though one is packaged as “Collection Ciné Club”, both discs are identical. FSF have also licensed ‘their’ pirated 2006 restoration for an illicit BD and DVD from Zima in Mexico. A DVD from Gryphon Entertainment in Oz also has an uncredited rip of the 2006 restoration, with the 5.1 surround score incorrectly transferred in mono. Amateurs. Gryphon’s “version” has been reissued on a more recent pirate, a 2017 DVD from fellow antipodean shysters Bounty Films. There are also several pirated DVDs 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.


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, with even better to come one day. 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-Sagi, David ShepardLokke Heiss, Martin H. Larsen and Patrick Stanbury for help with this series of articles.

If you like this, you’ll love:

Facebook: The Nosferatu Society | in-depth BD/DVD details: DVDCompare

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31st May 2020 00:06

Brent, I wondered about the variation in running times. Elsewhere you recommend the BFI blu-ray, and I have that one along with the Kino DVD, so I think I’m fairly well-covered. But could you explain how the difference in the frame rate affects the experience of watching “Nosferatu.” Above you write “1995 restoration – Kino and Divisa: 93min at 18fps; BFI: 89min at 19fps,” which raises the question of whether being shorter by 4 minutes could be significant. Is there any way to correct that, or is the BFI version just going to run faster? And thank you for the… Read more »

31st May 2020 16:11

Thank you for confirming what I’d come to realize, or suspect, that 1 frame per second isn’t noticeable. If 4 minutes had been cut from the movie, or if 4 minutes of previously lost footage had been added, that would be a big deal, but that’s not what’s going on with the two versions.

So here’s to the next restoration! May it come in our lifetimes.

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