German Horror Classics
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One of the finest DVD sets of the past year is Kino's "German Horror Classics." At first glance, this set looks like it might be a simple repackaging of previous releases. Kino has released both Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in various forms over the past few years. Could these new editions really be substantially different? (Yes, they are.) And other companies have released these movies on video. Are Kino's new versions good enough to encourage other versions to be discarded? (Once again, yes.) If prospective DVD buyers have a hard time deciding whether to take the plunge on Kino's new set, it's hard to blame them. But a peek at the additional contents in this DVD set should whet the appetite of most all fans of German silent era cinema: The Golem and Waxworks round out the set and these movies, while not as familiar to some viewers as Nosferatu and Caligari, are rare gems that have escaped previous release in America in authorized editions. Now Kino fills this void with excellent DVD versions that feature new scores and tinted prints.

 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Calagari has been available from many cut-rate video companies in worn, burnt-out prints that scarcely hinted at the beauty of the original movie. Thankfully in 1996 Kino released a restored version. And now their "German Horror Classics" release of Caligari improves even further by using a 35mm print restored by the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv of Germany. The print features original color tinting and toning, and the translations are provided by Kinograph Montreal. This is the best that Caligari has ever looked in America. This is a gorgeous print with deep dark shadows and sharp images. No known negative still exists, so all video transfers of Caligari come from exhibition prints with varying degrees of wear. This print exhibits some mild burnt out areas. But in general, this print is in excellent shape.

The outlandish expressionistic set designs have never looked better. Contorted shadows — drawn directly across the floors and walls of the sets — evoke a nightmarish vision. This is why college professors keep showing the movie in film classes. Nowhere are the visual cues of expressionism so profound. Clerks sit on chairs that look like tall spires and rooftops look like explosions of perverse angles.

Conrad Veight stars as the somnambulist named Cesare. Deep under the control of Dr. Caligari, who showcases him in a circus sideshow, Cesare rises from his coffin and follows his master's bidding. In this case that means hunting down a beautiful young woman and attempting to return with her to Dr. Caligari. But who is sane and who is insane? And whose twisted mind has evoked the twisted visuals? If you haven't seen this classic of German cinema, I won't spoil the fun by giving away the movie's plot twists. Unlike so many exhibits at film schools, this is indeed a fun movie.

Kino's disc includes a generous helping of extras, including a 43-minute condensed version of director Robert Wiene's Genuine: The Tale of a Vampire, behind-the-scenes footage of Robert Wiene, and a gallery of more than 40 photos, posters, and production sketches. In addition, the disc contains two musical scores: a contemporary orchestral score by Rainer Viertblock and a traditional score by Donald Sosin.


This is arguably one of the most horrifying movies ever made. Max Schreck portrays Dracula as if he were part rat. Instead of the canine incisors used by everyone from Bela Lugosi to Christopher Lee, Schreck is equipped with protruding front teeth that make him look like a rodent. Whereas legions of subsequent vampires would follow the Lugosi tradition and opt for sophistication, Nosferatu gives us a vampire with thin, gaunt limbs and a bulbous, bald head. He looks diseased and contagious. No filmgoers will be seduced by this incarnation of Dracula. He's an ugly creation who moves in spastic twitches. Unlike Boris Karloff's monster in Frankenstein, no one feels sorry for him. They want to see him die. But at the same time, there is something horribly sad about this twisted creature.

English prints labeled him as Count Orlok for many decades in a thinly-guised attempt to avoid plagiarism charges, but the widow of Bram Stoker did eventually bring charges against the filmmakers and the movie was removed from circulation for several decades. Now, the name Dracula has been restored to the movie, thanks to new subtitles culled from translations of the original German language title cards.

Kino released Nosferatu on VHS in 2000 and then re-issued it in an improved print with new translations only months later. In 2001, Image Entertainment released a version on DVD with the cooperation of David Shepherd of Film Preservation Associates. Following these previous releases, Kino's new edition of Nosferatu has an uphill battle to convince viewers to upgrade. But this is indeed the best version of Nosferatu currently available (and it's hard to imagine any better DVD versions coming along to unseat this one). Several problems marred the Film Preservation Associates release. For example, overly literal translations introduced clumsy, simplistic phrasings. Thankfully, Kino's new edition uses completely new translations and these translations restore some of the poetry to the intertitles.

Kino's disc has been mastered from a color tinted 35mm negative restored by the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna at the laboratories of L'Immagine Ritrovata. Special features include lengthy excerpts from other films by director F.W. Murnau, including Journey into the Night (1920), The Haunted Castle (1921), Phantom (1922), The Last Laugh (1924), Faust (1926), and Tabu (1931); a photo gallery; and a section that allows you to compare scenes from the novel, screenplay, and film. In addition, the disc includes two musical scores, one by Donald Sosin (with vocals by Joanna Seaton) and a second score by Gerard Hourbette and Thierry Zaboitzeff (performed by Art Zoyd).

 The Golem

Frequently cited as an inspiration for James Whale's Frankenstein, The Golem does indeed warrant attention as a model for Universal's sound-era horror classic (particularly, in a sequence where the golem encounters a young girl). But you can't really generate any sympathy for this golem. He's a mechanical construction without any intimations of a soul. But this isn't necessarily a weakness. Here, the creature becomes an awe-inspiring vehicle for revenge. He's created by a Jewish rabbi who fears that Jews will be exiled from Germany. The rabbi works in a hidden laboratory, molding clay and creating a massive sculpture with powerful arms, a huge barrel chest, and a strange helmet-like mantle of hair (the hair looks ludicrous but it's one of the golem's most distinctive features). When the rabbi's assistant uses the golem for his own personal gain, he loses control of the golem. In the ensuing scenes, the monster nearly destroys the Jewish ghetto.

This version of the ancient legend of the golem represents director Paul Wegener's third go at the tale. This is his most well-known version (the other versions appear to be lost). Particularly impressive is the creation sequence, which blends sorcery and religion and foreshadows a somewhat similar sequence in F.W. Murnau's Faust (1926).

Kino's DVD edition was restored by the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna at the laboratories of L'Immagine Ritrovata and utilizes materials from the Museum of Modern Art, The Filmmuseum of Munich, Gosfilmofund of Moscow, and Cineteca Italiana of Milan. The disc includes an excerpt from Julien Duviver's Le Golem and Murnau's Faust, as well as an excerpt from Chayim Bloch's book The Golem. In addition, the disc features a gallery of photographs and artwork.


Paul Leni's Waxworks is the odd movie out here. While its framing story is set in the chamber of horrors of a carnival's sideshow, the first two episodes of this omnibus structured film, which involve Ivan the Terrible (Conrad Veidt) and Al-Raschid (Emil Jannings), offer little in the way of horror. Only in the final episode, which involves Jack the Ripper does the movie fulfill its horror label. Okay, so let's disregard the movie's tenuous connection to the horror genre and the "German Horror Classics" label. Judged on its own terms, however, this is a marvelous movie, with wonderful sequences that evolve Arabian Nights-inspired adventures. Many people consider the Jack the Ripper sequence to be the movie's finest, but the sequence is different than the rest of the movie. The Ivan the Terrible and Al-Raschid episodes are fanciful, larger than life. But the Jack the Ripper episode becomes surrealistic and expressionistic. Arguably heavy handed and pretentious, the episode brings the movie to a conclusion on a disappointing note.

Originally, Waxworks was to have included a fourth episode based on Rinaldo Rinaldini, the central figure of Christian August Vulpius's Rauberroman. But budgetary limitations prevented this episode from being filmed. However, a wax figure of Rinaldini still appears prominently in the framing story.

Soon after filming Waxworks, director Paul Leni succumbed to the call of Hollywood and ventured across the Atlantic. He made Cat and the Canary and three other movies before dying of blood poisoning at the age of 44.

Kino's edition of Waxworks was mastered from a 35mm element restored by the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna, with laboratory work performed by L'Immagine Ritrovata. The film features the original intertitles from a 1924 British release print. The disc includes two supplemental features: Leni's 1926 short titled Rebus Film I and an excerpt from Fairbanks' Thief of Bagdad. (The later was supposedly influenced by the fairy tale Arabia in Waxworks' Al-Raschid story.) This edition of Waxworks was mastered from a 35mm element restored by the Cineteca del Comune di Bologne, with laboratory work performed by L'Immagne Ritroveta. The print is color tinted.

Overall this is an excellent set. Supplemental essays providing background info would have been much appreciated, but the restored prints are excellent. These are the definitive editions of all four films.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, The Golem, and Waxworks are available separately and as part of the "German Horror Classics" boxed set. Suggested retail price: $24.95 each disc separately or $89.95 for the boxed set. For more information, check out the Kino International Web site.