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Orlock The Vampire 3D

Other // Unrated // April 20, 2010
List Price: $12.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Bill Gibron | posted March 28, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Product:
How, exactly do you make a silent horror film, long a part of the profitless public domain, into something viable and rife with commercial potential? Easy, give it the latest go-to gimmickry tweak...3D! This happens a lot to movie macabre. It's happened to Night of the Living Dead (both directly and indirectly) and now it's being done to the 1922 vampire epic Nosferatu. Of course, we're not talking about the "Real" process, polarized glasses giving you an accurate representation of depth and scale. No, this is the old two color configuration, red and blue plastic lenses letting just enough stereoscopic sight in to warrant the dimensional delineation. For those who've already experienced Murnau's monster classic, there's not much new here. Max Schreck is still otherworldly as the bloodthirsty count, and the silent screen acting is over the top and highly mannered. But the work of F/X whiz Chris Heuer and director Keith Carter deserves some mention, since they are trying to reinvent a cinematic antique - and for the most part, succeed.

The Plot:
If you know Bram Stoker's original Dracula, you sort-of know Nosferatu. Thomas Hunter (our Jonathan Harker substitute) heads off to Transylvania to conduct business with the infamous Count Orlock, a name that strikes fear in the hearts of the locals. After an unusual night in his host's haunted castle, he learns that he might be dealing with a vampire. As luck would have it, Hunter is selling the Count the house right across from his own back in Germany. Discovering the truth, our hero is injured and unable to keep the fiend from traveling to his hometown. There, a sudden outbreak of the Black Plague has the citizenry baffled. After setting up shop, Orlock gets his psychological slave Knock to help him with his feeding. Many people die, and Hunter's fiancé Ellen appears next on his lunch list. It will take a miracle - or a major plot contrivance - to keep Orlock from turning our ingénue into something evil.

The DVD:
While it stands as one of the first major macabre motion pictures, Nosferatu (here retitled Count Orlock and given a sketchy "director's cut" backstory) has really not aged well. Outside of director F. W. Murnau's brilliant use of the creepy Max Schreck, and the various found locations around Germany and Slovakia, the story is static and the scares limited. We fright fans mostly pay homage to this movie for what it meant to the fledgling genre and less for how effective it is some nine decades later. Still, kudos to Heuer and Carter for trying to breathe life into a flat-lining fright flick. When Werner Herzog remade the movie in the mid '70s, he settled on dealing with the human element inside the monster (and visa versa). Here, technology tweaks the already existing print, playing with aspect ratios and other post-production gimmickry to give the appearance of perspective. Sometimes, it works and works well. At other instances, you recognize the limits of the two color process and pray that something else makes this package worthwhile. Sadly, the returns are rather limited.

To begin with, this version of Nosferatu doesn't "seem" very different from the original - unless, of course you count the purposeful removal of several minutes of atmosphere and mood. If we are to believe the hype-driven DVD cover, this is the way Murnau wanted his movie shown. No, not in 3D mind you, but in its trimmed and cut compilation. To the untrained eye (or from the viewpoint of someone who hasn't memorized every frame of the previous incarnation), everything here looks the same - the opening material, the visit to Knock, the trip to Transylvania, the discovery of the Count's secret, the castle escape, the deadly sea cruise, the arrival of Orlock in Germany. Clearly, nothing is added or embellished - aside from the CG 3D transitions that are tacky at best. Some research does suggest that "alternative" versions of the film do exist, but as far as anyone is concerned, this is just the same old print "prettied up" with post-modern bells and whistles. Unlike the recent news of a newly restored Metropolis (coming closer to Lang's original version) has movie fanatics in a frenzy, nothing here will provide a similar sense of discovery.

And yet, as with most ancient horror films, Nosferatu provides an interesting insight into what gave folks the willies eons ago. In this case, we are clearly dealing with the notion of foreigners and their unusual ways, the still strong suspicion over immigration and the spreading of disease, the always present patina of veiled eroticism, and the notion of night being the time of ghouls, goblins, and ghosts. Schreck's make-up job is marvelous, rivaling the work of Jack Pierce and his iconic Universal monsters. Even better, the acting uses the stagey sense of silent film acting to increase Orlock's eerie presence. While Gustav von Wangenheim's Hunter is a whirling dervish in delivery, Schreck is all sinister surrealism. Unlike Bela Lugosi, however, who brought a real subtext and humanity to his portrayal of the fabled Count, Nosferatu is all visualization. We don't "get" the same perceived passion that many find in the 1931 version, or in Christopher Lee's menacing machismo of the Hammer take on the material. For the most part, this movie is creaky curiosity and that's about it. 3D does little to add to its allure.

The Video:
Of course, the main questions here are (1) how does this print of Nosferatu/Count Orlock look, and (2) how successful is the 3D enhancement. The short answers are pretty good and...pretty good. The image is washed out a bit and it looks like a post-production decision was made to over-emphasize the black in the monochrome transfer to compensate. The contrast is indeed very sharp and somewhat distracting at times. The 1.33:1 full frame picture also suffers from some incomplete conceits. When the 3D works, it works well - but that's because it's based in the new material added in. As for the film itself, the cinematic stunt is very hit or miss. There is also a standard 2D version available, if you are interested.

The Audio:
Silent films can also suffer from shoddy score, and Count Orlock is no different. The toy piano presentation, sounding like an instrumental amateur hunting and pecking along the keyboard, is very annoying. Similarly, we get some goofy sound F/X which are supposed to "enhance" the experience, but actually do more to mock what Murnau was trying to accomplish. The Dolby Digital Mono/Stereo delivers it all in a polished and presentable manner.

The Extras:
None, unless you count a weird introduction from Troma's Lloyd Kaufman and the pair of 3D glasses necessary to watch the film as added content, there is nothing else offered as part of this package. Indeed, this is more or less a bare bones release.

Final Thoughts:
This is a tough title to gauge. Clearly, this is not a restored version of Nosferatu being presented in the manner director F. W. Murnau would have wanted. With or without the third dimension, the editorial decisions made here are more frightening than the movie itself. And yet, with a post-modern audience already desensitized to all things terror, some might find this update agreeable. As a result, a score of Rent It will be awarded, since it allows the curious a chance to make up their own mind, while warning the more discerning in the demographic about the presentations plentiful shortcomings. Granted, when something falls into the public domain, and more importantly, out of the public consciousness, you can more or less do what you want with it. But in the case of Count Orlock, the visual stunt doesn't make up for the unsuccessful editorial choices.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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