The BFI Presents: Nosferatu the Vampyre, Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979) Limited Edition Steelbook Review.

herzog nosferatu

‘All of my films, maybe you have seen any, come out from pain- that’s the source, that is where they come from, not from pleasure’- Werner Herzog (Documentary on the making of Nosferatu- 1979).

Out this week, in stunning high definition, the eagerly anticipated Blu-ray release from the BFI of one of the most beautiful and haunting vampire films ever made, Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre. A must have for all fans this comes in a limited edition steel book. The release precedes the upcoming Werner Herzog boxset which is outlined by the BFI for release this summer.

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Herzog’s bitterly sombre resurrection of F. W Murnau’s expressionistic forerunner Nosferatu blends old style twisted and dreamlike visuals with his own new wave renderings to make something unique and exquisite. If you consider this film among its peers, gone is the period pomp and excess of Hammer, the sexy nymphets of Rollin and Franco, the usual trappings of bodices, blood and boobs. Herzog presents the vampire as a desolate creature, a carrier of death and destruction without the need for any overt violence or garnishing. Stripped down with a strong autumnal colour palette – muted browns and greens- this film portrays the true nature of the vampire as a predator; it is raw, foreboding and loaded with atmosphere. Herzog skilfully crafts his story giving it an all-encompassing feeling of dread that drips into every pore; the doom laden ambience supported by striking visuals and powerful performances.

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Klaus Kinski- in a tale which also borrows from Bram Stoker’s original novel- as the infamous Count Dracula, channels the spirit of Max Schreck’s Orlok in his performance. Along with some fantastic make-up effects he presents a figure very reminiscent of the original 1922 Nosferatu; his long curling fingernails and rat-like teeth make him a revolting and sinister presence. Kinski’s performance is intense, conveying the aura of a doomed and forsaken creature. A lonely creature that creeps and preys on the innocent, waiting and watching from the sidelines until his moment can arrive. Audiences around this time would have been accustomed to Christopher Lee’s sexual predator Count- an affluent, powerful man who courts his victims at luxurious dinner parties surrounded by beautiful period décor. Kinski’s Dracula, in comparison, watches through windows- an outsider- as if wishing to be part of the world he no longer belongs to. When we first meet him, as Jonathan Harker arrives at his castle, Dracula’s malevolent presence is striking. Herzog sets the scene in a dining room half bathed in shadow; Kinski lit with Rembrandt lighting, so his face is always partly obscured by the dark. As the two sit to discuss plans, the Count soaks in his new victim with near orgasmic fervour, while Bruno Ganz ‘s Harker sits uncomfortably like a doomed man who is partaking in his last supper. Ganz’s portrayal of Harker- in line with the tone of the overall piece- is an unfortunate character who carries the air of someone for which no salvation will come. Isabelle Adjani (Possession 1981) as Lucy Harker- veering from the Stoker’s original narrative- projects the only optimism in a plot line that carries such an oppressive force it ebbs through every facet. Adjani’s wide-eyed beauty thus giving the opportunity for some spectacular scenes and providing the perfect contrast to Kinski’s hideous looking Count.

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Regardless of the fatalistic overtones in the plot Herzog’s vision brings with it a rare beauty which lacks pretension. There is very little blood on show, and yet the atmosphere builds to such stifling proportions it is not missed. This is helped along by the extremely haunting electronic score from Popol Vuh, and dramatic music of German composer Wagner. This is pure gothic tragedy, sublime in both its context and visual power. Herzog throws in commanding sequences- such as a marketplace lined with coffins, or infestations of rats which arrive with the ominous Count, bats, and countless shadows- to provide a piece which is unforgettable, atmospheric, and which revels in the magnificence of the macabre.

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The Package.

This BFI limited edition steelbook presents a feast for collectors delivered in high definition (1080p) and packaged with exquisite artwork. The print has been restored in both English and German language, and the film is presented in its original 1.85.1 format from a 2K scan- gathered from both the original negative and ‘best available print materials’. In terms of quality this is superb; flawless, and beautifully rendered to give a true representation of the original cinematic quality of the film. The grain, depth and texture of the print are all intact, and the picture is fantastically detailed. The colours, although muted because of the production, show a great depth and naturalistic feel. The sound is delivered in its original mono composition (with optional 5.1 surround sound for the German version) and provides the perfect base for Popol Vuh’s memorable score. The sound levels are well mixed and remain faithful to the original release.

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In terms of extra material the feature is accompanied with a full length commentary from director Herzog, speaking to Norman Hill about the production. This also comes accompanied by a 13 minute documentary from 1979 filmed on the set of Nosferatu. Herzog talks about his ideas and themes for the film and shows himself a very hands on director, giving the opportunity for some rare behind the scenes footage. As well as the original trailer and archive stills gallery there is a collector’s booklet- beautifully illustrated- which comes with a review of the film by Tom Milne (originally published in Sight and Sound July 1979), and new writing from Professor Laurie Johnson.

Verdict.

In blending the traditional with new wave German cinema Herzog produced something haunting, beautiful and sublime in his reworking of the 1922 Nosferatu. This is a film that does not have to rely on gratuitous elements to make its point; it’s raw beauty and power resonate long after viewing. Now faithfully restored by the BFI in a pristine, high definition print, now is the perfect time to pick this up if you have not already seen it. While the collectors pack and upgraded package, make this a must buy for existing fans.

Check out the BFI Official site for details here.

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Categories: 70's horror, Euro Horror, Vampire

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