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Nosferatu (Blu-ray)

Review by: 
Black Gloves
AKA: 
Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens
Release Date: 
1922
Studio: 
Eureka!
Genre: 
Vampire
Format: 
Blu-ray
Region: 
B
Aspect Ratio: 
1.37:1
Directed by: 
F.W. Murnau
Cast: 
Max Schreck
Gustav von Wangenheim
Greta Schröder
Alexander Granach
Ruth Landshoff
Movie: 
5
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
5

F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens” [Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror] is so clearly the product of a very specific period in Germany’s political and cultural history, that it would seem perfectly natural for us to have to dismiss outright the possibility of it retaining any of its original power to mesmerise a modern day audience, or to terrify it in the way we might presume it to have once terrified the earliest viewers who encountered this landmark work -- say, during its premier in Berlin on the 15th March, 1922.  We might find it even more improbable to believe a work conceived in the earliest days of horror cinema could still make the flesh crawl in strange, indefinable ways -- especially that of first time viewers, firmly schooled in the conventions of the genre this film was so instrumental in helping to spawn. After all, even the first talkies of the Hollywood Golden Age are largely now the province of only a very niche audience of cinephiles -- and that’s probably even more so the case when it comes to the classics of the silent era, including those important works born, like this one, in the economically precarious Germany that was the product of military defeat at the end of the First World War, known as the Wiemar Republic -- a period of great political volatility, but one which was also culturally extremely fertile. What could be left for this film to say to us of vampires today, that we jaded seen-it-alls haven’t already encountered a million times -- at least not without its makers merely unknowingly rehearsing what have since become the vampire sub-genre’s most well-worn and threadbare clichés? The instantly recognisable but passéidioms of silent cinema – the irising in & out transitions between scenes and the starchy, multi-Act structure inherited from the stage – now instantly place everything we are shown here at an incalculably greater remove from that which would have been shared by the average contemporary audience member from 1922.

During the course of “Nosferartu” we soon learn to associate several of the film’s most prominent cast members with an exaggeratedly broad theatrical style of performance that can seem absurd to modern eyes. Moreover, the film demonstrates a particularly anachronistic and slightly alien system of film grammar. For example, Murnau’s use of an under-cranked camera to produce speeded up action in some scenes is meant to denote an uncanny incursion of the supernatural into natural surroundings, but instead, to those of us viewing such episodes over ninety years after they were first shot, they tend to signify instead a mode of humour we have learned through convention to associate with the crude sight gags of a traditional seaside postcard. Instances such as these provide us with glimpses into a world we can barely now recognise out of context -- full of grand, over-determined gestural acting and magic lantern special effects that come from a time when the horror film as an idea was in its earliest infancy, and could hardly even be considered definable enough yet to constitute a fully-fledged genre, emerging only gradually like a shadowy phantom from the remnants of romantic German folklore traditions, literary Gothic romances and dark fairy tales.

In fact, though “Nosferatu” can be cited in retrospect as being one of the key texts of early Horror cinema, audiences of the day were by all accounts less than impressed by it. Germany’s critics lauded the notable technical and aesthetic triumphs of the film early on, enough to establish Murnau as a director of note from this point on in his career. Yet, the film’s reputation suffered a blow after poor box office attendance in Germany; and bad critical notices and audience indifference marred its reception in New York after it opened there in June, 1929. The production company folded soon after the film’s German release, and for many years “Nosferatu” was not generally seen or discussed, outside of private screenings by film societies, because of its uncertain legal status (about which more in a moment). This was the case until the end of the 1940s, when critics such as Siegfried Kracauer and Lotte Eisner were responsible for kindling interest in the cinema of the Wiemar era, marking Murnau and “Nosferatu” out as an obvious outstanding example of its attractions, both from an aesthetic point of view and thematically.

“Nosferatu”, for all the raw sensationalism on offer in its subject matter, is a film with a narrative that is (on its surface) remarkably simple -- and yet it sets in place a nuanced and endlessly refractive index of polarities which interconnect in ever more complex ways the more one returns to consider their implications: good versus evil; nature versus civilisation; reason versus emotion; science versus magic; spiritual purity versus physical corruption; the domestic space versus contamination by the foreign -- the novelist Jim Shepard perhaps captured something of the film’s complex perspective on such binaries when he assumed Murnau’s voice for a section of his 1998 novel “Nosferatu in Love” in which he imagined the director spelling out his ideas in a written journal that lays down what the film is trying to express, as Murnau prepares to start shooting: ‘the obsession is not with the oppositions,’ he writes, ‘as much as the areas between them – the possibility that they’re not such opposites.’ This gestalt quality runs right through the narrative veins of the film to form the apparently contradictory yet mutually reinforcing ways we can look at and interpret its images today.

On the one hand, “Nosferatu” seems quite rightly to embody Kracauer’s view, laid out in his seminal book “FromCaligari to Hitler”, that the specific spectral vampiric figure it conjures onto the screen occupies a place in Wiemarcinema alongside epochal fictional German creations such as Dr Mabuse: the all-powerful, tyrannical mastermind who mesmerises and controls and corrupts every aspect of the society he comes into contact with. By this interpretation, the film is characteristic of the prophetic nightmarish visions of the influential Expressionist school of film-makers, who exposed the darker currents of the national psyche by portraying the misshapen forces lurking beneath its surface with their low key-lighting and crazily unbalanced painted studio sets. On the other hand, the film can be seen, and has been by some, to not so much predict the rise of Hitler as to enact a fantastical version of his most noxious theories concerning racial purity, in a fable-like narrative that presents us with a wholesome community bedevilled by an insidious foreign invader whose grotesque, exaggerated physical features seem to foreshadow the distortions inherent in the portrayal of Jewishness seen in later anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda. The story suggests the same idea -- depicting this corrupting being arriving in a previously idyllic little Baltic port town and his presence coinciding with an outbreak of plague which ravages the community, while he himself makes a bee-line for the film’s virginal and pure Germanic heroine, in order to contaminate her!

But this co-mingling of opposing themes, and the possible conflicting interpretations we can take from the film, all have their roots in the fact that, despite containing images which were arguably single-handedly responsible for tying the shadow-streaked aesthetics of Expressionism forever to the horror genre (particularly that shot of Nosferatu’s misshapen silhouette stalking up a staircase towards the heroine’s bedroom at the climax of the film -- gaunt and hunched over, with those awful elongated claws  outstretched toward her door … a shot which seems instantly to summon every childhood dread you’ve ever remembered experiencing about terrors that walk by night)Murnau was not by nature, and didn’t think of himself as, an Expressionist director: the film doesn’t generally conform to the accepted Expressionist ethos of portraying extreme psychological states through outlandish, artificially rendered sets. In fact, being such a low budget film, the production couldn’t afford extensive use of sets at all, so Murnau shot it, in the main, on location in Northern Germany on the Baltic Coast, using carefully chosen street sites and abandoned buildings, and among ruins and castles in the Czechoslovakian mountains. Thus, the film possesses a realistic mis-en-scene, which often makes use of nominally prosaic outdoor spaces; and yet it is still able periodically to transform these sites into dreamlike otherworldly locales through the sheer skillfulnessand inventive artistry of Ufa’s top cameraman Fritz Arno Wagner (who was also the visual architect of many of Fritz Lang’s Wiemar era films such as “Spies”, “M” and “The Testament of Dr Mabuse”) as well as Murnau’s unique eye for special composition.

A graduate, alongside several of the film’s actors, of Max Reinhardt’s acting school, Murnau’s scholarly background was in art history and German literature, and he turned to paintings from the German Romantic Landscape tradition for much of his inspiration, rather than the delirious, hallucinatory modernity of the Expressionists. The pictorial representation of nature in the film owes much to the work of Casper David Friedrich, aiming  as it clearly does to capture similar notions of the sublime through contemplation of the natural landscape, and thereby portraying the latent immanence of nature in itself -- almost as though the workings of nature were governed by an intrinsically spiritual life force. Murnau’s images often recall Friedrich’s vast dark skies and towering craggy mountain views, his human figures usually dwarfed by their awe inspiring surroundings. There are also many instances dotted throughout the film of Murnau reproducing images directly from paintings, by Arnold Böcklin and Rembrandt among several others. But if there is one true thing that everybody knows about “Nosferatu” it’s that the film was the first ever adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula”. Unauthorised and quite illegal, it soon incurred the ire of Stoker’s formidable widow Florence when she got wind of its existence, galvanising her to do everything  within her (and her lawyers’) power to not only have the picture withdrawn from circulation, but to have the negative and every existent print copy of it destroyed.

Even though she resoundingly won the backing of every court that considered her case, Stoker failed in all her efforts to suppress what most film lovers would now call a masterpiece. “Nosferatu” had already spread across the world like the undead plague it so chillingly depicts, making the destruction of all prints an impossible task. The film took root in France, where it became a talismanic badge for the Surrealists, but also in England and then New York. Although there have been various different cuts and even re-edited versions made available down the years (some with extra filmed material later added by third parties), the diligent efforts of film restorers and archival historians have resulted in “Nosferatu” coming to us now, complete and in scintillating high definition, with all its once missing or previously omitted scenes fully restored; while any removed inter-titles have now also been painstakingly reconstructed, and the original score --  a special composition written at the time to accompany the movie by Hans Erdmann –  re-recorded so that it now booms out majestically from home cinema systems. 

Although the connection to Wiemar era artistic movements such as the German Expressionists and, more particularly, F.W. Murnau’s important artistic contribution to the film, are understandably often made the main focus for critical commentary on “Nosferatu”, it is also recognisably the product of a rising tide of interest in occult practices, alchemy and mysticism from the period -- beliefs which had been around since the turn of the 20thcentury, but which were also becoming more prevalent throughout Europe at about the same time as the cultural and political developments previously mentioned were occurring in reaction to the economic free-fall then taking place in Germany. Various secret societies, spiritualist movements and newly invented religions connected to Theosophy and Rosicrucianism, were springing up constantly in this crucible of social upheaval, competing with each other for adherents before eventually either merging their invented traditions of mystical occult ritual or splintering into still more outlandish groupings.

In fact, the man who is chiefly responsible for bringing “Nosferatu” to the screen was not F.W. Muranu at all. Instead, that honour must go to a man called Albin Grau. He produced the movie for a company that he himself helped found, specifically with the aim of making a whole slate of supernatural dramas of which “Nosferatu” was intended to be just the first. The company was called Prana-Film – named after a Theosophical journal -- and AlbinGrau’s involvement extended to him helping to scout the film’s shooting locations, creating the sets and décor at Berlin’s Jofa studio, and designing the film’s costumes. He also sketched and designed Max Schreck’s iconic vampire makeup, which was produced from a series of drawings and paintings much influenced by Hugo Steiner-Prag, the artist who’d previously illustrated Gustav Mayrink’s novel “Golem” in a style reminiscent of the Gothic Romanticism of Henry Fuseli’s famous painting “The Nightmare”. Grau also designed and painted the memorably eerie poster for the 1922 release, and oversaw the German publicity campaign (coming up with one or two tall tales in the process which have remained attached to the film ever since; such as the rumour, for instance, that actor Max Schreck was a real-life vampire, along with some supposed first-hand accounts of real vampirism said to have taken place in Rural Romania and that Grau claimed he’d heard about during the war). In fact, many of Grau’s sketches of scenes taken from the screenplay found their way directly into the film after being recreated almost exactly by Muranu. But Grau was also heavily involved in several esoteric Hermetic orders during the same period as this, which adhered to a variety of occult practices and mystical ‘traditions’. Through his association with one of the prime movers in Germany’s esoteric circles of the day – a man called Heinrich Tranker -- Grau even seems to have had some contact with the infamous Aleister Crowley, during a period when, true to form, Crowley was attempting to take over the running of one of the larger International occult organisations, after it had only recently merged with Tranker’s own ‘Pansophist’ movement, causing a major rift between the two men in the process.

Although “Nosferatu” is in no way a coded index of its makers’ occult beliefs, every aspect of the production betrays the fact that not only was Grau’s whole outlook informed by such material, but that so were many of the other members of the production employed on the film, as well -- such as its script writer Henrik Galeen andMurnau’s close friend and artistic consultant on the movie, Werner Spies. Despite changing the names of the major characters and omitting some of them from this condensed version of the novel’s narrative -- apparently in the mistaken belief that this released them from any obligation to seek permission from the rights holder first --Galeen’s screenplay is at once recognisable as a version of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, but with its English Whitby location altered to that of a port town on the Baltic coast, called Wisborg, and the period during which its events take place pushed back from the novel’s then contemporary late-nineteenth century to a bygone 1838 (the year of an actual outbreak of plague in Bremen).

The first few acts rehearse a fairly recognisable approximation of the structure of the early sections of Stoker’s famous novel, even retaining the method of detailing events through written records, letters, books of ancient vampire lore, and some anonymous journal entries that detail the journey of an estate agent’s clerk -- now named Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) instead of Jonathan Harker here -- who is sent by his firm of estate agents to Transylvania, on an errand to meet a mysterious foreign Count by the name of Orlok (Max Schreck), who plans on buying a property in Hutter’s home town. During the journey, made against a backdrop of brooding forests and quaint rural communities of peasants in traditional dress who appear unnaturally afraid of both the remote Count -- who resides in an ancient castle perched high up on the peaks of a Transylvanian mountain – and the idea that werewolves and vampires stalk the countryside, Hutter meets the terrified patrons and owners of a traditional inn that falls silent when he mentions his destination; a spectral coachman ( the disguised Orlok himself) driving a carriage led by black shrouded horses through a magical white forest; and eventually the gaunt, rodent-like figure of the undisguised Orlok himself, his bald pate and bat-like pointed ears hidden under a hat as he greets his unwitting guest beneath the vast Gothic arch that forms the main gateway to his sepulchral medievalist domain.

 But even within this familiar framework many subtle but telling changes are made to the narrative, that have the knock on result of causing the production to, ironically, now seem much fresher to a modern eye than many a more recent interpretation of this much told tale. Unlike Stoker’s text, the film actually starts before Thomas Hutter even sets off on his Transylvanian trek, establishing his home of Wisborg as a quaint, idyllic shipping town, dominated by the steeple of its church tower -- an well-ordered bastion of happy, respectable decent folk who go about their business with no thought of the lurking evil that is about to engulf their community. Hutter’s Fiancée, Ellen (GretaSchröder), is portrayed as a peculiarly wan-looking individual to begin with, and the couple’s relationship comes across as innocent, almost child-like in its sexlessness, during some establishing scenes of domestic bliss designed to replicate the tasteful middle-class aesthetics of the Biedermeier epoch. The film’s version of Dr VanHelsing is already a friend of Hutter’s before he leaves for Transylvania: a rather ineffectual college lecturer and occultist called Professor Bulwar (John Gottowt), who ends up contributing very little to the plot at all. Meanwhile the novel’s equivalents of Arthur Homewood and Lucy Westenra become a respectable but dull croquet-playing couple -- shipping magnate Harding (Georg H. Schnell) and his sister Anny (Ruth Landshoff), with whom Ellen stays with at their luxury townhouse while her fiancé is away on his trip. This prologue allows portents of ambiguity and oddness to be introduced into what is initially portrayed as an apparently charming bourgeois set up – principally through Hutter’s employer, the estate agent Knock (Alexander Granach), who is merged with the novel’s character ofReinfield to become Orlok’s representative and servant in Wisborg, and who is likewise confined to a mental asylum as he awaits his master’s arrival by ship from the middle portion of the film onwards. This tweak to the plot has the effect of suggesting that Hutter and Ellen have already been made the unwitting targets of dark forces from the very beginning, having somehow already been earmarked as Orlok’s chosen victims -- and that the town ofWisborg is also already fated to suffer the horrible consequences of his attentions.

Knock’s introduction as a mad-eyed cackling loon, ensconced in his shadowy den of an office, full of crooked shelves bulging with documents and dis-proportioned furniture, offers the first hint of the Expressionist influence in the midst of the film’s Romantic sensibility. It also strongly suggests the idea that Hutter and the rest of the town are in some ways culpable for their naïve blindness to the threat in their midst, since Knock is so clearly mad to begin with, and the plans and housing deeds he draws up for Orlok (to be delivered by Hutter) are made using such obscure-looking occult crypto-graphical symbols (Grau’s influence again), that it’s a wonder no-one stops to question what he’s up to! Hutter in particular always seems to come across as a bit of a dolt, wilfully blind to the gathering shadows and hints of the uncanny which increasingly surround him. One character who does not share this ‘see no evil’ attitude, though, is Ellen. In fact she appears to be incredibly attuned to a more ‘Gothic’ sensibility from the earliest scenes of the film, and has some sort of inkling straightaway that bad things are about to happen, which leads her, to no avail, to beg her fiancé not to leave. In this regard, the film prefigures a theme which came to dominate much of Murnau’s later cinema, that of a heterosexual couple threatened by some outside force. The revelation that the property Orlok is about to purchase actually stands directly opposite the couple’s own home, and that the many arched window frames of this vast, disjointed crumbling mansion gaze right down like malevolent eyes into their bedroom -- the building’s hulking form dominating the view rendered by the bedroom’s single window -- should be more than enough of a hint to the causal viewer that a great pall has already been cast across the couple’s relationship … occult cogs are already whirring away in the remote background and supernatural tendrils are enveloping their chosen victims in an invisible trap.

Murnau’s use of three of six adjacent disused red-brick warehouses in Lübeck to stand in for Orlok’s mansion residence (they were originally built as salt stores), forming a row where they line the edge of a now-murky canal, is a masterstroke which demonstrates how to create Expressionist imagery from natural surroundings rather than constructed sets, thereby amplifying the uncanny qualities of the narrative. Using careful framing and editing to create the effect, Murnau is able to suggest a uniquely peculiar atmosphere that one can’t quite readily define, merely by taking one type of building – a commercial warehouse normally used for a specific, definable purpose -- and using it to evoke another sense of space entirely -- one that doesn’t quite fit with our expectations of the surroundings. This is the uncanny (defined by Jonathan Rigby in “Landmarks of Terror” as ‘the intrusion of the abnormal into the normal’) in a nutshell. Similar instances multiply throughout the first half of the film, yet the foolhardy Hutter blithely ignores them all: the strange, geographically out of place Hyena (obtained by the production from a Czech zoo) which is glimpsed stalking horses on Transylvanian pastureland outside Hutter’s room at the inn is another ‘wrong’ image that also helps set up another running theme which connects the spiritual qualities of nature to the harsh materialism of Darwinian predation, but, in this case simultaneously also suggests an intrusion from beyond rationality invading the natural landscape. Grau’s production design decor cleverly incorporates the arch motif from the architecture of the castle of Oravsky Podzamok (used for the exteriors ofOrlok’s Transylvanian lair) into the sets -- extending the subliminal idea, which Muranu has already set up when he chose to frame many of his exterior scenes beneath some looming Gothic arches outside the castle, that the world of the dead is encroaching upon that of the living. Hutter’s cheerful attempts to downplay the deathly atmosphere building up all around him once he enters Orlok’s Gothic baronial lair become almost comical; his insistence on ignoring the lore of the ancient book of vampire history he finds beside his bedside table at the Inn soon proves to be a mistake; and eventually Hutter can no longer deny the obvious as Orlok casts aside any attempt to maintain his civilised human persona after he catches a glimpse of Ellen’s photograph in Hutter’s locket.

Max Schreck’s performance as the skeletal, animalistic Orlok is still powerfully affecting to the modern viewer: the result of a perfect coming together of make-up design, mimetic performance and photographic perfection. The arch motif reaches its apotheosis when Orlok is seen by Hutter framed in the arched doorway of his bedroom in theTransylvanian  castle, by which point Schreck’s appearance has assumed its full Nosferatu guise – a toothy,rodentine combination of starchy-stiff calcification and predatory cunning clothed in grave mould, at once solid and physical but also ineffably phantasmal as it advances on the poor, terror stricken Hutter -- who is reduced to cowering beneath his bed sheets as the evil shadow of his clawed, vampiric persecutor extends itself across him. At this point Murnau’s artistry as an editor as well as a director shines through as he blurs the lines of loyalty between Hutter, Ellen and Orlok through suggestive montage. The action suddenly cuts back to Ellen, rising from her bed in the safe, bourgeois home of Harding and Anny back in Wisborg, apparently in a somnambulist’s dream but clearly somehow aware of what is going on at that precise moment hundreds of miles away in Orlok’s castle. The Count also seems aware of Ellen too, and draws back with a start from finishing off her hapless fiancé at the last moment. The link between these two characters is now firmly established in the mind of the viewer, even though they have never shared a scene: Orlok is both the predatory sexual threat to conventional order as imagined (unwittingly) by Stoker’s original novel, and the ultimate outsider victim, drawn by powerful forces across sea and land towards a fate he can evade no more than the fly can avoid the spider’s web or the carnivorous prison of a Venus Fly Trap (shown during one of Dr Bulwer’s lectures to some college students, and explicitly described by him as being ‘like a vampire’). Ellen meanwhile, becomes the heroine who is pure of heart and who bravely sacrifices herself to end a plague born in supernatural evil; or she’s the one whose secret sexual attraction drew this occult menace towards her in the first place, before tempting him to remain at her bedside until the crow of the cock at dawn causes him to disintegrate in daylight before the rising sun … The line between predator and prey here becomes ambiguous with roles continually swapping -- both readings seem to sit comfortably side by side throughout the remainder of a film which encompasses some of the great horror set-pieces of cinema.

Several events from the Stoker novel are subsequently telescoped together to great effect during the middle Acts of the movie, so that the vampire’s journey by sea, to take up residence in his acquired mansion in Wisborg, becomes a race against time, like the one which occurs at the climax of the novel when Van Helsing and his companions attempt to reach castle Dracula before the Count. In this case, Hutter has to make a perilous journey cross country on horseback after escaping from Orlok’s castle and after recovering from the effects of mild vampire predation, in order to reach Ellen before his otherworldly nemesis can claim her. All the while, the pale object of these concerns sits pining on a bench beside an eerie beach that’s dotted with slanting cruciform grave markers -- awaiting eitherOrlok or Hutte, we can’t really tell for sure which. Some amazing scenes  follow: the destruction of the crew of theEmpusa -- the schooner carrying Orlok to Wisborg -- as stop-motion effects and in-camera trickery are combined with raw images of the abject to create a style of horror imagery that is still potent in its efficacy; the eerie death ship, back lit to make it look like one giant coffin as it drifts into Wisborg harbour, bringing plague and pestilence with it; and the spectral Orlok with his own coffin under one arm, silently and nimbly stalking the empty streets and retracing a route we’d previously seen Thomas Hutter take in reverse when he set out for Transylvania, passing outside the couple’s door just at the moment in which they are re-united – all are memorable instances of the macabre, that gain extra weight from the occult atmosphere of secret knowledge contributed by Grau and Galeen as they draw their oblique themes together.

The final Act of the film still feels like an original contribution to vampire mythology that owes more to contemporary events than Stoker’s story, since the film portrays a town afflicted by a plague that comes from the rats brought in the crates of earth Orlok transports with him from Transylvania – an obvious reference to the recent influenza pandemic which had claimed more victims than the Great War only a few years before the release of the film. This seems like a rational, treatable malady which can be understood by the film’s bland authority figures, such as Dr Bulwer, yet they play no part in what happens next: this apparently natural event is all tangled up in the invisible occult threads that bind the supernatural spectre of Orlok – now ensconced within the walls of the tottering manse overlooking the Hutters’ little home – with the threat to Thomas and Ellen’s relationship and the corruption of their domestic sphere by uncanny elements. The finale, in which Ellen purposefully sacrifices herself in order to end the town’s plague, brings with it some of the most influential imagery ever created for the horror genre, defining its aesthetics and purpose in a manner that takes “Nosferatu” beyond the Gothic romances and German art movements which had nurtured other early silent horror films too, to provide the Horror genre with its own identity from it moulding of the elements of Expressionism, the Gothic, and Romantic traditions in a unique new way.

To have this landmark movie presented to us for Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema Collection, in correctly tinted high definition from a restored print overseen by Luciano Berriatúa on behalf of Friedrich-Wilhelm Murnau-Stiftung, with all previous missing scenes now included, etc., is a major event which is duly celebrated here in the form of a first class Blu-ray and Steelbook treatment that includes two lucid commentary tracks – one by historian R. Dixon Smith and critic Brad Stevens, which examines the themes and film-making techniques at work in the film; and a second by David Kalat, full to bursting with background info delivered by the knowledgeable Kalat in his customary riveting, enthusiastic style  – which together provide an excellent overview of most aspects relating to the making of the film. Complementing them both is the 51 minute German language documentary “The Language of Shadows” which covers Murnau’s childhood, his education and wartime years, and the first nine feature films he made before he became involved in Albin Grau’s project. Kevin Jackson’s monogram on “Nosferatu”, written for theBFI Film Classics series, is a highly recommended read and is ably summarised in a 20 minute video piece by the writer, recorded for this release. Plus, there’s a somewhat rambling and free-wheeling ‘introduction’ from film-maker Abel Ferrara, which I found largely incomprehensible although the director’s interest in the film and inMurnau’s treatment of the tortured figure of the vampire has often been quoted in works such as “King of New York” and “The Addiction”. Lastly, a 56-page booklet features an impressive scholarly essay by Gilberto Perez that examines the phenomenology of Muranu’s imagery in this and many of his other films; a contemporary essay byAlbin Grau himself, situating the film as a product of still-rampant superstition in Eastern Europe and a consequence of the First World War;  Enno Patalas’ examination of the restoration history; while Craig Keller looks at what lies behind the significance the Surrealists came to attach to a brief shot of Hutter crossing the bridge that leads to Orlok’s castle. The attractive booklet features portraits and stills from the film and is the icing on the cake of a first class release that cries out to be made part of every horror fan’s collection as soon as possible. Highly recommended.

Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night! 

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