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Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani and Bruno Ganz
Length: 107 min
Label: The BFI
Release Date: May 19, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: German: LPCM Mono, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English: LPCM Mono
Subtitles: English, optional
- Limited Edition SteelBook
- Feature-length audio commentary with Werner Herzog
- On-set documentary (1979, 13 mins): promotional film featuring candid interviews with Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski
- Original theatrical trailer
- Stills gallery
- Illustrated booklet with a new essay by Laurie Johnson, full film credits and on-set photographs
Werner Herzog has proclaimed F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) to be the greatest film to ever come out of Germany. A hyperbolic statement perhaps—especially considering the excellence of his own version—but understandable in context of the German New Wave, where filmmakers wanted to establish some sort of continuity with their cinematic past. It was Herzog, after all, who in 1974, walked from Munich to Paris in order to save the dying Lotte Eisner, the film historian and writer who had bridged the gap between the mavericks of German Expressionist Cinema and the German filmmakers of the New Wave. Herzog has further stated that the 70s’ generation of German filmmakers felt like orphans; their fathers had sided with the Nazis, or immigrated, and so the re-making of Nosferatu was for him a way to connect to the very roots of German cinema.
Now, the BFI, in honor of Herzog’s legacy, has released Nosferatu the Vampyre and Aguirre, the Wrath of God on two separate Steelbook Blu-Rays, which stand in preparation for their big Werner Herzog Blu-Ray box set, slated for release in July.
Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre is more an homage than a remake. True, there are key moments where Herzog does shot-for-shot reconstruction of Murnau’s original—such as the entrance of the rat-infested ship into Wismar—but such moments are always at the service of Herzog’s personal vision. For all intents and purposes, Murnau’s and Herzog’s are two distinctly different films; only comparable superficially. For one thing, Herzog really fleshes out his characters. Murnau’s Graf Orlok is almost more insect than human, a spectral creature who haunts our nightmares. While Herzog’s Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski) is a nightmarish creature too, it is a character imbued with human frailty. He suffers because he cannot partake in human life, or even death. He longs for love and contact with people, even as he unleashes the black plague on the town of Wismar.Klaus Kinski gives a performance for the ages, as the rodentine Dracula. His performance is much more interesting than Max Schreck in Murnau’s film, even if he hasn’t quite Schreck’s stick-like physique. Isabelle Adjani is haunting, (and haunted), as the pure woman who must sacrifice her own life to destroy the vampire. Bruno Ganz is an understated Jonathan Harker, and Roland Topor is a Tasmanian Devil-like Renfield, his maniacal laughter will echo in your head long after the film is over. One of the most important characters in Nosferatu the Vampyre, and indeed in all of Herzog’s films, is the landscape. Long before Harker reaches Dracula’s castle, the vampire’s presence is palpable in Transylvania’s forests and mountains, in the very wind itself. Later on, when the Dracula’s coffins are seen floating on a raft down a river, one senses that the river itself is Dracula’s ally. This rarefied feeling for the metaphysical inner drama of landscapes has always been central in Herzog’s films and makes Nosferatu the Vampyre one of the most haunting vampire films ever made.
When it comes to restoration of any sort, less is often more. In BFI’s new HD restoration of Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, there is no visible attempt to “beautify” the image in any way. All the natural film grain has been left intact. The beautifully earthy and subdued colors have not been amped up artificially, and no visible signs of edge sharpening are evident. There are many soft focus shots, as well as many sharp ones, which are all part of the original cinematography. This is exactly the way I remember seeing the film in theaters, during the 1980’s. The print itself appears to be in very good shape, and any scratches or specs have been nicely cleaned up. Occasionally there are tiny anomalies, but these are insignificant. While the German Herzog/Kinski blu-ray box set has been subjected to numerous online reviews that complain about substantial DNR processing, no such problems occur here. BFI must have used a different master, which certainly makes one hopeful for their upcoming Werner Herzog box set. A cursory look at their new Aguirre, the Wrath of God Blu-Ray confirms the naturalness and beauty of BFI’s new HD transfers. This is the perfect way to present these films.
Both the mono and surround tracks sound excellent, just as truthful to the original source material as the image. BFI’s Blu-Ray contains both the German language and the English language versions, though personally, I’ve never liked the English language one. Herzog himself has said that he feels the German version is more authentic. Optional English subtitles are included.
There are no significant new extra features that we have not seen or heard before, save perhaps for the behind-the-scenes photos. To start with, the audio commentary with Werner Herzog has been ported over from the old Anchor Bay DVD. As well, the 13-minute Making-Of featurette, produced in 1979, was originally a promotional film featuring short interviews with Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. We are also given an original theatrical trailer, a behind-the-scenes stills gallery, and an illustrated booklet with a new essay by Laurie Johnson.
Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre must be seen at least once by all genre fans and by fans of cinema in general. It is one of the most haunting genre films ever made. Herzog is one of the great visionary filmmakers of our time, and, whether this becomes your favorite vampire film or not, it is absolutely worth seeing and forming an opinion on. And BFI’s superb new HD presentation is certainly the best way to see it.