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THE MASTERWORKS OF
THE GERMAN HORROR CINEMA

THE MASTERWORKS OF THE GERMAN HORROR CINEMA ($55) is certainly an interesting choice for the folks at Elite Entertainment to offer on DVD, even though this release was prepared in conjunction with the National Film Museum. THE GOLEM, NOSFERATU and THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI are all undeniable silent horror masterpieces, worthy of release. However, with these films being in notoriously poor condition, as well as two of them already being available on DVD (in versions I havenít seen), this release may have not been the wisest choice of titles for Elite Entertainment. Still, in concept it would be intriguing to have these three films available in a single collection.

Prior to this release, I never had the opportunity to see THE GOLEM, which has (for good reason) been compared to the James Whale film versions of FRANKENSTEIN. Based upon a centuries old Jewish folk tale, THE GOLEM tells the tale of Rabbi Loew (Albert SteinrŁck) who fashions a man out of clay and brings his creation to life to protect his people. Unfortunately, The Golem (Paul Wegener) turns on his creator and becomes a virtually unstoppable monster destroying everything in its way. The similarities between THE GOLEM and FRANKENSTEIN are undeniable, although the biggest difference lay in the fact that Rabbi Loew uses supernatural power to bring his creation to life, while Dr. Frankenstein relied upon science.

The presentation of THE GOLEM isnít particularly impressive, which is just what I expected from a 1920 German film. I would imagine that the 16mm film elements utilized for the transfer is numerous generations away from the original camera negative. Because of this, the black and white image is harsh looking, with few levels of gray between the whites and blacks. Additionally, the level of detail is lacking throughout the presentation, although certain scenes are definitely better than others. THE GOLEM is presented totally silent, without any musical accompaniment.

I have loved NOSFERATU since I was a child, when I had my first opportunity to see movie on public television. With NOSFERATU, director F.W. Murnau created one of the truly great vampire films. In fact, NOSFERATU is such an influential movie that I still see little bits of it being copied in newer vampire films. Perhaps copied is too strong a word, donít filmmakers call it a homage when the steal something from another movie? NOSFERATU is unofficial adaptation of Bram Stokerís novel Dracula, which caused quite a stir with Stokerís widow, when the film was released in 1922. The most striking thing about NOSFERATU is the visage of Count Orlok (Max Schreck), the vampire or Nosferatu of the filmís title. Orlok was a genuine horror amongst horror movie monsters- with rat-like features, this vampire barely looked human. The plot of NOSFERATU involves Count Orlokís purchase of property in Germany and the young businessman who travels to the Countís castle in Transylvania to finalize the deal. Unfortunately, the hero discovers too late that Count Orlok is an undead creature to prevent him from descending upon his new home like a plague- in the company of rats and dead bodies. Despite the appearance of Count Orlok, he is a pathetic, almost sympathetic creature that longs for life and love- two things he can no longer have.

The quality of black and white presentation of NOSFERATU is pretty much on par with what Iíve seen over the years; the movie is quite watchable and provides a decent level of detail, but the film element contains numerous age-related markings. This presentation is taken from a German print that contained music, which means NOSFERATU is being shown at twenty-four frames per second, instead the movieís intended slower speed. Additionally, the inter-title cards are not original and use the names of the characters from Stokerís novel, so Count Orlok is referred to as Count Dracula in this version. At times, the musical accompaniment becomes annoying and the music lacks any significant level of fidelity.

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI could be the most expressionistic movie of what is referred to as German Expressionist Cinema. At the very least, weíll say that THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI has the most unique look of any film made. The sets, the lighting and the makeup all come together to make this movie appear to be a moving expressionistic painting, very bizarre and very wonderful indeed. The plot of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is relayed in flashback and tells the tale of a carnival performer named Caligari (Werner Kraus) and the somnambulist named Cesare (Conrad Veidt) that he uses as his attraction. Caligari also utilizes the sleepwalking Cesare to commit a series of murders in the small hamlet where they are performing. When confronted, Caligari retreats to an insane asylum where he is really the doctor in charge, and Cesare turns out to be a hapless patient whom Caligari is using in a mad experiment.

Like THE GOLEM, the black and white presentation for THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is taken from a 16mm reduction element and is problematic. The image isnít particularly detailed, so the filmís highly stylized look cannot be fully appreciated. Contrast isnít quite as harsh as THE GOLEM, but almost all of the subtle shades of gray have been lost. Of course, the film elements are at fault, since no transfer in the world can recover the portions of the image lost to the ravages of time. There is a musical soundtrack provided with the film, but the sound has its share of age related weaknesses. None of the three presentations exhibit any problems with respect to MPEG-2 artifacts, although each film has a short running time and has been given a full side of a disc to prevent compression problems. All three films have simplistic interactive menus, with the standard scene selection feature and access to a small number of publicity stills, and on the CALIGARI disc there is a brief clip from GENUINE, another expressionistic German horror film.

DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 
THE MASTERWORKS OF THE GERMAN HORROR CINEMA 



 

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DVD reviews are Copyright © 2008 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 

 

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