Shot in 1921 and released a year later, F.W. Murnau's NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF TERROR remains a chilling horror classic, with a chequered history. Murnau's film was actually the first and last production of Proma-Film GMbH who became bankrupt after being sued for copyright infringement. Bram Stoker's estate, following instructions from his wife Florence, also ordered the original negative and all existing prints be destroyed. Thankfully, a few of the prints had been sent overseas, giving generations the chance to view this eerie silent movie. The film itself is a genuine monochrome nightmare, with Max Schreck's skeletal Count Orlok casting the darkest shadow over the lives of Thomas and Ellen Hutter. Setting the film some 50 years earlier than Stoker's novel, Murnau deposits us in a plague-infested Europe with Schreck symbolising the decease and decay. While Hammer's Dracula would later cast Christopher Lee as an imposing figure with considerable sexual attraction, Murnau's Count is a carrier of death, and resurrection is not on the agenda. My most memorable viewing of this film goes back to November 1995, where a restored colour-tinted print played before a packed auditorium at the National Film Theatre during the London Film Festival. On the big screen, Murnau's decision to use outside locations rather than studio-bound sets comes over stronger than ever, and live piano accompaniment added to the experience.
Here in the UK, a 2 disc DVD has just been released; the result of the recent Wilhelm/Murnau/Stiftung restoration. This release sees the DVD premiere of a score composed for the original NOSFERATU by Hans Erdmann, and the restored print has removed many of the visual imperfections. Extras include a commentary track, a 53 minute featurette titled 'The Language Of Shadows' (taking in Murnau's early career and a tour of Nosferatu's locations) and a restoration demonstration showing how much work went into this project. There's also an 80 page booklet containing essays and an article on Vampirism from Albin Grau. Definitive? Well, it certainly appears to be the version to buy, for the moment at least.