DVD Rating: ****

Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

Read Keith Hennessey Brown's film review of Nosferatu

The BFI's Nosferatu DVD is, to my knowledge, the second version of the film to be released on UK R2, following Eureka's Shadow Of The Vampire tie-in edition in 2001.

As such, it's not only a case of evaluating this BFI disc in its own right, but also comparing it to the alternative.

Copy picture

In terms of print quality, there's not much to choose between them. Both are sourced from restored materials, but the fact that this is an 80 year old film, which spent 30-odd years in limbo, inevitably means constant scratches and damage.

Crucially, this version is colour tinted, whereas the two Eureka versions - sepia tinted and black and white - are not. In this regard the BFI version is certainly an improvement, as we can now see that Nosferatu is only active in the blue-tinted night scenes and so, for the first time, his disintegration in the daylight makes sense.

Music-wise, the Eureka disc featured modern industrial/synth scoring by Art Zoyd, while this version has a 1997 orchestral score by James Bernard, composer of the music for many Hammer films.

Again, one would have to go with the BFI release here. Bernard's score acknowledges Nosferatu's subtitle, A Symphony Of Horrors, to far greater effect and, with its blending of horrific and romantic motifs, functions as a worthwhile summation of the composer's entire Hammer career.

In terms of extras, the BFI disc offers a 25 minute film essay by Christopher Frayling, on-screen biographies of Murnau and Bernard, and web links to further notes on the film and a downloadable article on its restoration. The Eureka disc offers a commentary track, on-screen essays on The Origins Of Vampires and Nosferatu's Controversy, and - perhaps incongruously - a trailer for Shadow Of The Vampire.

Here, things are less clear cut. All the on-screen materials on both discs are satisfactory, although one can't help feeling it would be better to simply print a booklet.

The film essay format clearly works better than the commentary track approach when the relationship between film and art is being discussed. It's good, for instance, that Frayling's essay can cut from a Fusili painting to a Murnau shot, which mirrors it. At the same time, however, Frayling's piece feels somewhat insubstantial in comparison to a full commentary.

In 20 minutes, there's only so much he can discuss and some areas, such as the film's social, sexual and political subtexts - that Nosferatu is a Jew-like alien from the East who brings disease and death to the previously healthy German gemeinschaft; or that the heroine, Ellen, takes a more pro-active role in defeating the vampire, for example - seem to demand more attention than he can really afford them.

On balance, though, the BFI disc is clearly the one to go for.

Reviewed on: 09 Feb 2002
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Nosferatu packshot
F W Murnau's silent adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
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Angus Wolfe Murray: DVD

Product Code: BFIVD520

Region: 2

Ratio: 1.33 Academy

Sound: Hifi stereo

Extras: 25 minute film essay by Christopher Frayling; biographies of F W Murnau and James Bernard; downloadable essay; web link

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