Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski’s collaborations are the stuff of cinema legend. The mercurial actor and the director who brought out the best (and worst) of him teamed up for what is, perhaps, their best known creation – the surprisingly faithful and critically acclaimed 1979 adaptation of F.W. Murnau’s 1921 silent masterpiece, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, titled Nosferatu the Vampyre, now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory.
Estate agent Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) is sent to visit a reclusive royal named Dracula (Kinski) in Transylvania regarding the purchase of a property in Wismar, Germany. Harker's wife, Lucy (Isabelle Adjani), senses trouble from this meeting, but Jonathan assures her that upon its completion he will be home and they will be the wealthier for it. When Harker arrives at Dracula's castle, however, he is immediately ill at ease, as the Count's eccentricity (as well as his interest in Lucy) is eclipsed only by his secrecy, which prompts Harker to delve deeper into the tales of the Count’s vampirism that told to him by gypsies en route to the castle.
Sensing the young agent’s suspicion, Dracula flees, trapping Harker in his abode, and makes his way by ship to Wismar, whereupon he sets forth a plague with his army of rats, before seeking out the pure hearted Lucy whose life-blood he so craves. Meanwhile, Harker races back to his home by land in hopes to stop the beast and save his beloved.
Nosferatu the Vampyre is more homage to Murnau than a straight out remake. Many scenes are blocked and staged with an eye toward a precise recreation, showing Herzog's obvious love for the source material. While there are obvious changes made for contemporary audiences (and the fact that Herzog had both the benefits of a larger budget AND sound!), the film is very true to the original while also achieving its own place in horror's upper echelon of quality films.
Of course, as in all of his films, the main attraction here is Klaus Kinski, who still manages to chew the scenery while, at the same time, holding true to the tragic and twisted persona created by Max Schreck. This is a showy role, of course, and Kinski relishes every hiss and scowl, but Herzog keeps in surprisingly in-check, throughout, making this one of the late actor’s most reserved performances.
Scream Factory presents Nosferatu the Vampyre (both the English and German versions of the film) in a 1080p 1.85:1 transfer approved by Herzog, himself that has, apparently, caused quite a stir amongst videophiles. Personally, I find the image to be pretty solid for its vintage, if not a bit too clean in spots. There’s definitely moments here where the image looks a tad overscrubbed, but not to such a degree that I found it distracting. I’ve no basis for comparison beyond my aged Anchor Bay DVD (which this improves upon in spades), but those who’ve seen the Region B BFI release say that release’s transfer features more cinematic grain (a good thing), a more vibrant color palette, and more detail overall. That being said, this release WAS overseen and approved by the director, himself, so make of that what you will. For me, the transfer is a huge improvement over its DVD cousin, and, for that reason alone, makes it well worth the price of the upgrade.
While I found that both versions of the film were virtually identical in terms of image quality, the German version of the film features both a very impressive 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track and a 2.0 DTS HD track, while the English version is given only a the 2.0 DTS HD mix. I prefer the German Language 2.0 DTS HD mix, however, as it just sounds more natural here, while the 5.1 mix on the German language version of the film sounded a bit off to me. The English 2.0 mix sounds fine, but it’s a touch more brittle in spots, with hints of flanging and a bit of distortion during louder scenes.
Bonus features include Herzog commentaries for both versions of the film, in English and German, of course, as well as a vintage “making-of” (HD), trailers (HD), and a stills gallery (HD).
While a faithful homage to a silent film classic, Nosferatu the Vampyre is a classic in its own right, and deserves a place in every serious horror fans collection. While Scream Factory’s release has been greeted by a bit of controversy surrounding the Herzog-approved transfer, it’s still much-improved over the DVD release from years back. If you’re an unforgiving videophile, you may want to do further research to see if the BFI release is as good as some say, but, for fans of the film just looking for an attractive upgrade over their standard definition releases, this set comes highly recommended.