M.I.A.: Nigeal Kneale's Nighteen Eighty-Four (The Peter Cushing One)

This is one of those posts I made this site for.  This case has been frustrating sci-fi lovers and DVD collectors for almost fifteen years now.  That's when we were first told about the restoration done on Nigel Kneale's BBC adaptation of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four for a pending release from DD Home Entertainment.  It's a twisting, frustrating tale that so far has ended in nothing, but I still remain hopeful, for reasons I'll get into.  This isn't really about the particular stop-gap grey market discs I've settled for in the meantime, pictured above, but I'll tell you everything you could want to know about that, too.
Like all the BBC productions from that time, 1954's 1984 aired live, and thankfully, unlike many of those productions, it was recorded and preserved.  1984 was produced and directed by Rudolph Cartier, the maverick visionary who also made all of Kneale's original Quatermass serials along with other noteworthy works including his lost horror classic The Creature (remade as Hammer's Abominable Snowman, also starring Peter Cushing) and an adaptation of Wuthering Heights.  Unlike classical adaptations like Wuthering Heights, however, it's worth noting that Orwell's novel was a contemporary work, having been published in 1949.  So this was the first time viewers were seeing 1984 on screen, and it was quite controversial at the time, primarily for the torture/ Room 101 scenes, though by today's standards, it's all suggestion and quite tame.
While this is far from his first acting gig, this is the film that really put Peter Cushing, who plays the lead character Winston Smith, on the map, because it was this production that led Hammer to pursue him for their movies.  And even having seen subsequent adaptations of 1984, it's hard to imagine anyone performing the role on the level of Cushing.  He shares the screen with some impressive co-stars, too, including Donald Pleasance as his confidant Syme and Andre Morell, who'd go on to play the title role in Kneale and Cartier's Quatermass & the Pit.  With a smart and faithful script and top shelf performances, this still holds up as the definitive Nineteen Eighty-Four to this day.
So what happened to that restoration?  Listings for the DVD went up on all major retailers site in the summer of 2004, soon followed by a very exciting press release.  Like Quatermass & the Pit (again, this was all standard for BBC programs of the time) the live performance made use of 35mm film inserts, and DD's press release described making fresh scans of the original negatives to insert them into the best quality telerecording they could muster, describing the results of their work as, "even better than when it was first transmitted."  I can still vividly remember, and just tracked down, the original MHVF forum post where I read that the release was being delayed, if not out-right cancelled, because Orwell's estate didn't want it conflicting with a concurrent DVD release of the 1984 Hollywood version (yes, the studio movie of 1984 came out in 1984).  I've seen that version, and it's not bad... it's certainly got the production values, and William Hurt's a great actor.  But there's something more oppressive about the plain, gray walls of the BBC original, and Kneale's script and Cushing's performance are just tighter and more effective even to this day.

But okay, fine.  A delay is annoying, but if you've ever been excited by an announcement for a Synapse Films release, you've learned to cope with long waits.  Of course, fifteen years is another matter.  But there were more developments in the meantime, stringing the faithful along.  First, in 2007, Koch Vision announced a US release.  That quietly disappeared, too.  Then, iIn 2014, The BFI announced their own release (scroll down), and again, it was listed on retailers' sites with a new cover (wrongly proclaiming it to be "directed by Nigel Kneale") and everything.  If you click that link now, however, you'll see it's been pulled, too, apparently for roughly the same reason: the Orwell estate only wants the one version on the market.  I hope it doesn't escape them that they're crushing important art and, in some small way at least, emulating the authority figures George was warning us about in the first place.

So, in the meantime, I got this grey market DVD from A2ZCDS.  I hesitate to call it a bootleg, since it's openly sold through major retailers, and is a legitimately pressed disc with a UPC, etc.  But you know, it's like all of those cheapo releases that put out "public domain" titles where the title isn't really in the public domain, so much as nobody seems to be actively defending it.  And there are a number of such unauthorized releases of the 1954 1984, but I picked this one because it seemed a little more respectable... I knew there'd be no such thing as a high quality release, but I could at least hope for no ugly watermarks or interlacing.  And because, despite saying "1 DVD" clearly on the back of the case, and not mentioning it anywhere at all, this is actually a 2-disc set with the 1956 American adaptation of 1984 included as well.
The 1956 version.
This version of 1984 is okay, but falls short of both the 1954 and 1984 versions.  Kneale himself has been very critical of it, for example here's an interview where he calls it "a horrible bit of work."  It's filmed more like a movie, with more detailed sets and varied camera set-ups, as it's not a live production being recorded in studio.  But it's a bit clunky and heavy-handed (apparently funded by the CIA for propaganda purposes), focusing more on the love story, while Edmond O'Brien fails to deliver the relatable power that Cushing or Hurt bring to the role.  It's a novel coincidence that Donald Pleasance turns up in sort of the same role in this version as well, though; and despite coming up shorter than its competition, it's still worth the watch.
A2ZCDS 2009 US DVD film segment top; live footage mid; 1956 version bottom.
So yes, this looks like soft, swampy grey mist.  But I was at least happy this edition is free of interlacing and watermarks.  To be honest, the live footage, which is the overwhelming majority of the film, probably wouldn't look a whole heap better in any case.  But here, the video footage looks indistinguishable from the rest, whereas I'm sure it looks beautiful in that shelved restoration.  Meanwhile, the 1956 version looks better with deeper blacks and a touch more detail, but it's still a super soft, macro-blocking mess that reeks of old video and over-compressed DVDs.

And BFI would surely include subtitles, which of course these DVDs lacks, too.  Again, these are budget, borderline bootleg discs.  It's interesting to note, though, that this company also hosts the 1954 version (but not the 1956) streaming on Amazon Prime; and if you order direct from their site, you can get the 2-disc set or either version individually as single disc releases.  Of course there are no special features here either, though they do slap on two cheesy, animated commercials for their DVD line on each disc.  If BFI's edition ever were to see the light of day, one hopes they might include things like the BBC special from the 1960s that reunited the cast of the original 1984, or the rare 1965 BBC version that actually re-used Kneale's original 1954 script.
Now, I hope nobody takes me featuring this particular A2ZCDS disc to mean that I'm holding it up as any more than a cheap junker.  In lieu of anything else, it's better than nothing so I'm glad to have it, but that's as far as I can recommend it.  Obviously, this film deserves a properly licensed edition with features and the restoration work that was already done and has been sitting shelved all these years.  But the reason why I still hold out hope, as I mentioned up top, is that apparently the Orwell estate's copyright is due to lapse in just another year or two, and they will no longer be able to stand between this lost classic and its audience... providing physical media is still a thing by that time.

Obscure Import No More! Larry Cohen's Full Moon High (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Boy, if you're a serious Larry Cohen fan, you have to work hard for your DVDs. They're out there, but you have to be prepared to track down obscure imports from all sorts of different countries, multiple MOD discs from the various major studios and rare out of print DVDs that have been replaced on the marketplace with inferior counterparts. Today we're gonna go with one of the obscure imports.

Update 1/24/15 - 1/25/19: Obscure import no more!  Full Moon High has since been released by none other than Scream Factory as a mainstream US blu-ray release. Who'da thunk it?
Full Moon High in a way should be a crowd pleaser, as its a genre film (werewolves!), as opposed to some of his artsier dramas and thrillers like Daddy's Gone A-Hunting, The Private Files of J Edgar Hoover or Bone. But on the other hand, it'll probably drive many fans away because it's so goddamn silly. Sure, some of Cohen's most beloved films are pretty damn silly... Q, It's Alive 3, Return To Salem's Lot, The Stuff... But this is more like Zucker Brothers' silly. Except not as undeniably hilarious.

Adam Arkin - yes, Alan Arkin's son, and he pretty much plays the part like "hey, I'm Alan Arkin's son" - stars as Tony, a high school footballer who accompanies his paranoid wacko/ CIA agent father (Ed McMahon, who talks to a framed photo of Sen. Joe McCarthy on his wall) to Romania. There he gets his palm read at a restaurant and is told he carries the curse of the pentagram. "Oh, I always wanted to go to the pentagon," he says. At which point the waiter leans in to say, "pentagram, stupid!" ...That's the tone of this movie, more Young Frankenstein than Teen Wolf. Anyway, Tony naturally gets attacked by a werewolf and returns to his hometown with a taste for dog food and haunted by mysterious gypsy violin music.
Well, decades go by and the town is never able to discover the identity of the mysterious creature by girls on the butt. Tony hasn't age, so just like in the Twilight movies, he re-registers in high school. This time he's determined to win the big game like he never got to do years before. But he also has to avoid the cops, escape his stalker ex-girlfriend, and maybe break his curse.

This movie is definitely not for everyone, but if you're open-minded, this is actually a neat little movie. For every two terrible jokes, there's a smart one; and there's so many jokes, it means we get a lot of smart ones. You just have to not let the fact that the film is full of groaners spoil it for you; if you can take it all in stride, it's a good time. The roles are all (intentionally) broadly played, but there are a lot of enjoyable character parts, including Kenneth Mars, Louis Nye, Sanford & Son's Demond Wilson, center square Jim J Bullock, a young Bob Saget, Cohen favorite Laurene Landon, Alan Arkin himself, and even young Adam is actually quite affable in the lead. Production values are relatively, surprisingly high, and it helps to finally see this film on a good looking DVD to appreciate it. It's also full of Larry Cohen's signature touches including, yes, James Dixon. And I actually wind up enjoying this film more with each rewatch.
2010 Aus Shock DVD top; 2018 US Scream Factory blu bottom.
Here's a nice surprise!  Given that we already had a pretty solid, anamorphic widescreen transfer on the DVD that far exceeded what I'd find on a random import (i.e. something ripped from the VHS), I assumed that's what we'd be getting from SF, too, just in HD on the blu.  In fact, the only real selling point for me to double-dip was the commentary.  But no, they've gone and made a whole new master, which looks even better.  I mean, the first thing you're all probably noticing is how much nicer the colors look.  But there's more to it than that.  While the aspect ratio itself just received a tiny correction from 1.86:1 to 1.85, You can see Scream's new scan pulls in more info on all four sides, particularly the left and right.  How is that possible if the AR stays almost the same?  Well, it also turns out the DVD was slightly horizontally stretched, which Scream fixes, and thus is able to reveal the extra horizontal picture.  And naturally all that ugly SD compression is gone, but not only is SF's blu in clearer HD, but even by blu-ray standards, this has a really natural film grain base.

The audio sounds more robust on the blu, too, not just from the boost to DTS-HD, but it sounds like they genuinely went back and restored the original mono track.  Plus, as Scream routinely does, they've added optional English subs.  Honestly, I'm not so sure it was even a smart business decision for MGM to sink that money into this particular film, but I appreciate it!
Both discs include the theatrical trailer (which you should check out for the nutty narration), but that was it for the DVD.  The blu, however, secures a all new audio commentary by Larry Cohen and moderated by the guy who directed the King Cohen documentary.  If you've heard any Larry Cohen commentary, or watched any of his interviews, you know he's great at these.  He has a lot to say, and as we learn, he takes a little time to bone up with James Dixon before recording, which definitely insures a quality that you can't always rely on from commentaries by other filmmakers.  One downside, though, there are long and distinct pauses throughout.  Considering how energized Cohen is, and the fact that he's got a moderator sitting right with him, I suspect parts of the commentary were edited out, leaving us with disappointing patches of dead air.  But the 85% of the commentary that remains is pretty awesome, so don't let that deter you.  Especially since this is a film we hear so much less about... like, after a while, anecdotes about It's Alive or Maniac Cop start to double up and repeat; but Full Moon High is an untapped well!

Herzog/ Kinski, Part 2 (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

And we're back, continuing on from Part 1.  Feel free to use the above image as a checklist as we slide into the fourth of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski's films together, 1982's Fitzcarraldo.  And again, we get a very different Kinski - he's actually smiling!  He laughs, happily married (to none other than Claudia Cardinale) and cheerful.  Who knew he even had that in him?  haha  But what we did know he had in him was a mad drive, which he lets lead him into an impossible mission.  As an aspiring rubber baron in the early 20th century, he decides he can open a new route by dragging a massive steamship up over a jungle mountain, all in the name of bringing opera to the Amazon.  But what really sells this movie is the physical production.  If the authentically captured adventure of Aguirre's journey through the jungle blew your mind, this aims to top it.  A cast of hundreds hauls this steamboat up an actual mountain only to then ride it through very real, deadly rapids.  The story behind the film might be more compelling than the one in front of the cameras, but the complete absence of special effects of any kind keeps the line between the two fascinatingly thin.
1) 2004 AB DVD; 2) 2014 SF blu; 3) 2014 BFI blu.
Once again, stepping up to blu gives us a big jump in clarity.  Anchor Bay's 1.81:1 aspect ratio gets corrected to 1.85:1, with some additional framing adjustments.  Just looking at the two sets of shots I picked here, you can see the first set is quite close, but the second set pans noticeably to the right (and a bit more on the Shout than the BFI).  This time, happily, black crush is not an issue.  In fact, ironically, you can make out a hair more in Shout's shadows than BFI's.  On the other hand, though, grain is much more natural on the BFI blu, whereas it looks like Shout's been DNR'd, rather reminiscent of what we just saw on Blue Underground's Living Dead In Manchester Morgue blu.
SF blu left; BFI blu right.
See what I mean?  So BFI still wins out between the two, but by a different set of standards.

Audio-wise, we're sort of back to our earlier examples, with 5.1 and mono mixes of the German audio, but this time Anchor Bay also came up with a 5.1 mix of the English track, in addition to the mono.  But the Shout Factory drops that one, just giving us the two German mixes and English mono in 5.1.  BFI brings back all four mixes, though, with the 5.1s in DTS-HD and monos in PCM.  So the original mono mixes are what's really important, and they're on every version.  But if you care about the 5.1s, that's another point lost for Shout.  Oh, and yes, all three discs have optional English subtitles.
In terms of extras, things start out predictably.  Anchor Bay just has the Herzog/ Hill commentary, which is as rewarding as ever, plus the trailer and a photo gallery.  Both blus carry all of that over, but only Shout has the second audio commentary with Herzog and Straub.  However, Shout doesn't win this round, as BFI has two big aces up their sleeve.  The first is an exclusive, hour-long, previously unreleased British documentary filmed during the making of Fitzcarraldo called The South Bank Show: Werner Herzog.  It's a bit more generally about Herzog than this film in particular.  But that's okay, because they've got that angle thoroughly covered with their second ace, Burden of Dreams.

Burden of Dreams is a feature-length documentary by Les Blank filmed on the set of Fitzcarraldo.  Like I said, the story behind that film is more important than the actual plot, so this is an important and extensive look at the absurd lengths they went into capturing these images on film.  In fact, at least for myself, moments from the doc are indelibly married into my memory and appreciation of Fitzcarraldo itself.  From the wild footage of Herzog, Kinski and their cameraman being thrashed around on the rapids to the surviving footage of Mick Jagger and Jason Robards in the original, lost version of the film.  They essentially make one ultimate, double-film, each of which feels incomplete now when I just watch one or the other on their own.  It's such a compelling documentary that Criterion released it as its own separate and distinct DVD entry for their collection in 2005.  It's probably because Criterion has it, actually, that Shout couldn't include it.  But even though Criterion reissued Burden in 2016, they still made it DVD-only, though BFI has it on blu in their set.
1) 2005 Criterion DVD; 2) 2014 BFI blu.
It's a fullscreen film, presented in 1.33:1 on both discs, though as you can see above, it sometimes shifts to non-anamorphic widescreen when presenting shots from the feature.  Burden was shot in 16mm, so it naturally looks pretty low-fi, and BFI seem to be using the same master Criterion made ten years earlier.  So, it's not an upconvert.  The increased resolution of the BD does give you a little extra sharpness and clarity; but the movie is light enough on detail that you probably won't notice the difference without doing a direct screenshot comparison like this.  And even then, I had to zoom in and look pretty closely to confirm for me that it was boosted.
Criterion's exclusive interview.
And both discs just feature the original mono track (in LPCM on the blu) with optional English subtitles.  But there is an important distinction: Criterion's release is packed with special features.  BFI's blu is, for all intents and purposes, barebones, because for them Burden is itself pretty much an extra.  But Criterion cooked up an audio commentary with Blank, Herzog and sound recordist Maureen Gosling.  It's pretty good, not quite as interesting as the ones on Fitzcarraldo, but that may be because - after the film, its commentaries, and this doc - a lot of anecdotes start to repeat.  But there's more, too, including two deleted scenes and a lengthy on-camera interview with Herzog.  They also throw in the trailer, a stills gallery and the short film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, that Blank also directed, and which actually is included on the BFI set, too.  That short has nothing to do with Fitzcarraldo or Burden, though, and makes more sense paired up with Gates of Heaven, which Criterion also packaged it with (see that review for more).  Criterion's DVD also comes in a nice slip box and includes an 80-page reproduction of Blank's filming journals.

In short, Burden is a nice selling point for BFI's box over the Anchor Bay and Shout Factory ones; but you still may well feel the need to cop the Criterion edition anyway, which would render it much less of a big deal.
We jump ahead five more years to Herzog and Kinski's final film together, Cobra Verde.  Here Verde is a hardened, merciless bandit, an antihero straight out of a Western.  But lest you think anything in their body of work is predictable or cliche, we soon find our protagonist's journey taking a strange turn to Africa, where he's sent to take over the post of a murdered slave trader.  Herzog really leans into spectacle here, where actual local kings play themselves and have their people dance and perform for the camera.  Cobra Verde is an interesting blend of two distinct Herzog styles, where he's exploring with one eye, shooting exotic customs as he finds them, yet staging massive, epic-scale productions for the other.  The film dances between authenticity rival film makers could never hope to capture and fantastic, fabricated ballyhoo.  The plot and characters are a little threadbare - I have a feeling I wouldn't be too impressed with the novel it's based on; not to mention that it's not always easy to maintain empathy with a racist slave monger.  So in that sense it's a bit like watching Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra, where you're on board more to be impressed by the show being put on for you than to really sink into the story being told.
1) 2004 AB DVD; 2) 2014 SF blu; 3) 2014 BFI blu.
There's a bigger shift in aspect ratios on this one, going from 1.76:1 to a wider 1.85:1 (or even 1.86 in the case of Shout) on the blus.  I'm sure you don't need me to point out the significant gains in picture in the 2014 editions.  The blu-rays both also lean to a cooler blue tone, which I'm not honestly sure I prefer, but I couldn't actually recommend sticking with the DVDs when you see how drastically over-compressed it is compared to the HD versions.  Between the two blus, Shout's a hair too bright.  Grain is a bit lacking in both cases, but again I'd give the edge to BFI.  It's a slight edge, though.  In this case, the two blus are very close.

It's another familiar story in the audio department, with Anchor Bay offering 5.1 and mono versions of the German track, the English only in mono and optional English subs.  This time around, Shout drops the German 5.1, presenting just the two mono tracks in DTS-HD, while BFI keeps all three tracks, in DTS-HD for the 5.1 and LPCM for the monos.
Extras are the same old story with the Anchor Bay set: a Herzog/ Hill commentary and the trailer.  But things get more interesting with the blus.  Shout once again keeps the AB stuff and adds an hour-long audio track with Herzog and Straub, plus a photo gallery.  Even more exciting, they introduce a great little documentary to the table, aptly titled Herzog in Africa, which allows ride along, for 45 minutes, for the filming of Cobra Verde, and considering the utterly unique production, is an absolute must see.  Unfortunately, BFI keeps the AB stuff but gets none of the new Shout stuff.  Instead, though, they have their own exclusive: a very good, 90 minute Q&A with Herzog after a 1988 screening of Cobra Verde.  They also had a second, German language trailer.  So Shout has the best stuff, but BFI's exclusive is nothing to sneeze at.
And that's it for the films they created together.  Herzog has over 70 films to his credit now, and Kinski has over 130.  But these five stand out in both of their catalogs, and Herzog would reflect on their creative period and volatile relationship in his 1999 documentary, My Best Fiend, included in the Anchor Bay and Shout sets, but not BFI's.  He revisits filming locations (yes, even those deep in the Amazon) and interviews fellow cast members to reminisce over Kinski.  He showcases some great vintage footage (most noteworthy from Kinski's crazy tour as Christ) and returns to his childhood home.  Kinski was a dynamic figure to the point of near insanity, and Herzog doesn't shy away from exploiting that here.  By the way, I think it's worth noting that both deleted scenes from Blank's Burden of Dreams documentary are incorporated into this film in whole.  Overall, it's a very compelling little doc, but it does feel a bit brisk, like it would be even richer if he'd've dug a little deeper.  But you sure can't say what we've got isn't interesting as-is.
1) 2004 AB DVD; 2) 2014 SF blu.
The film quality naturally bounces around as this film uses footage from multiple sources, including some pretty dodgy videotape.  But in the higher quality stuff, either shot new for this documentary or  taken from the feature films, you can't miss the benefits of the restoration and uptick to HD.  It's 1.76:1 in both cases, but has clearly been re-scanned (from the 35mm interpositive) for much better image quality and improved framing.  All that ugly compression of the DVD is washed away, the colors are more naturalistic... there's a slight bit of black crush, I suppose, but it's not too invasive.  Overall, I was expecting a very minimal jump up from the DVD to blu, much like we just saw with Burden of Dreams.  But no, I'm happy to report that it's actually a real overhaul.

Both discs include both the English and German mono tracks (in DTS-HD on the blu) with optional English subtitles.  The only extra in both cases is the theatrical trailer.
So these are a brilliant collection of films, and absolutely worth upgrading if you've still got the DVDs.  Even for DVDs, they really don't hold up so well.  Overall, I tend to prefer the BFI transfers, but they both have so much unique content, including plenty of Herzog films and features not related to the Kinski collaborations, that you can't just declare a winner.  Honestly, despite the overlap, I'd recommend both sets if you can afford it.  And I'll be covering the remaining films in both sets down the road. But yeah, these bad boys ain't cheap, and many (most?) of these films aren't available on blu-ray individually; so you'll have to work out your own plays.  But for my part, I can't say I regret any of the double(or additional)-dips I've done for these films.

Herzog/ Kinski, Part 1 (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

This is a post that's been a long time coming, a look at the classic Werner Herzog/ Klaus Kinski collaborations, already famous, but really put on the map for modern audiences by Anchor Bay's famous Herzog Kinski DVD boxed set in 2004.  It's been requested and at the top of my list for a long time, but I've been quietly putting it off because I knew it wouldn't really be worthwhile unless I had the UK Werner Herzog blu-ray Collection to compare the US releases to.  Well, now I've finally secured a copy, so here we go!  I've also gone ahead and updated my coverage of The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, to include the BFI blu of that film to the comparisons.
We start off in 1972 with what many consider to be not only the best of Herzog and Kinski's collaborations, but the best film either of them have made in their entire careers.  Kinski plays the titular conquistador, Aguirre (in fact, he plays the title role in all of their films together) who winds up leading a large party of Spanish explorers on a mad journey through the Amazon in search of a lost city of gold.  What makes this film such a success is that so many elements are operating in rare form all at once.  You've got Kinski, of course, who inhabits the role in a both over the top yet authentic way.  And his performance is housed within this wild documentary-like experience captured by Herzog leading his cast and crew through the actual jungle.  You can feel how much of the characters' struggle is real life experience being captured on camera.  And then it's all set to the music of Popol Vuh, who's always been of Herzog's super secret weapons, but here tops even most of his other scores, again placing the viewer completely in this deadly voyage.
1) 2004 AB DVD; 2) 2014 SF blu; 3) 2014 BFI blu.
The jump from DVD to blu is big in all of these, but it's the biggest here because, disappointingly, Anchor Bay's DVD of Aguirre was interlaced.  This was a pretty high-profile, fancy boxed set, so even in 2004, that was a little shoddy.  Fortunately, none of the other films in their set have this issue.  Anyway, we can put that frustration happily in the past now, because we have much better blu-rays.  All editions retain the original, fullscreen 1.33:1 aspect ratio, though the blu-rays do zoom out a tiny extra bit, and frame the image slightly lower.  The Shout and BFI discs seem to share the same master, which has decidedly cooler color timing than the DVD, which is a step forward, since the old timing seems to have a flat, brownish hue to the whole image.  The difference between the two blus is marginal, with BFI's disc pushing slightly redder and it's blacks are very slightly deeper.  Because it's going to come up later, I'll just say explicitly that there doesn't seem to be any black crush on any of these discs.

All the releases offer roughly the same audio and language options, with a newer German 5.1 mix, plus the original mono tracks in both English and German.  And they all include optional English subtitles, even the DVD.  Of course, the blus feature uncompressed tracks, with Shout in DTS-HD and BFI in LPCM for the monos and DTS-HD for the 5.1.
All of the discs include the one main special feature, an audio commentary with Herzog and moderator Norman Hill.  They did commentaries for a lot of Herzog's films together, and if you've never heard them, they're pretty terrific: very informative, engaging, and with no lulls or lost focus.  Besides that, each disc includes the trailer, and the blus also include a stills gallery.  But here's where Shout really sets itself apart, they include a second audio commentary with Herzog and moderator Laurens Straub.  Yes, the two commentaries are often redundant and repeat many of the same anecdotes, but there are also enough unique bits to make it worth listening to both for more serious fans.
Seven years later, Kinski and Herzog reunited for the second feature, a remake of the classic German expressionistic silent film, Nosferatu.  For the most part, they stick pretty close to the original, and Stoker's story, but when they do deviate, it's delightful.  Where Herzog delivered shockingly authentic adventure in their previous effort, this entry is all about mood.  And we see a very different Kinski here, giving a very subtle and controlled performance in almost complete opposition of how we saw him in Aguirre.  In fact, one of the things that makes these series of films is so much fun is that while Kinski is so distinctive and utterly himself on the one hand, we're also getting five very different sides of him in each film.  Each role is an exciting discovery.

Now, before we get into the comparisons, there's one more thing we have to cover: the two versions of this film.  Both the blu-ray sets include the German and English versions of Nosferatu.  The DVD set only includes the German.  Because of that, I've got Anchor Bay's 2002 separate DVD release of Nosferatu[pictured, left], which included both versions of the film.  This is important to distinguish because we're not just talking about two different dubs.  Herzog actually shot different takes of every dialogue scene, with the actors speaking in English and German, and created two nearly identical films with mostly unique footage.  With that said, though, exterior and silent shots, that don't feature any dialogue, are the same.  So below, you'll notice two very similar but un-matching shots of Nosferatu reaching out to Harker.  That's not because I mismatched the frames - they can't match because they're two different takes.  But then the second set of shots, with Harker and the gypsies, are identical, because both versions of the film used the same shot.

So, here is the English version...
1) 2002 AB DVD; 2) 2014 SF blu; 3) 2014 BFI blu.
...And here is the German version.
1) 2002 AB DVD; 2) 2004 AB DVD; 3) 2014 SF blu; 4) 2014 BFI blu.
And now, here's a genuinely matching shot across both versions and all releases.
1) 2002 AB DVD (English); 2) 2002 AB DVD (German);
3) 2004 AB DVD (German); 4) 2014 SF blu (English);
5) 2014 SF blu (German); 6) 2014 BFI blu (English);
7) 2014 BFI blu (German).
The differences between the English and German versions, in terms of PQ at least, are nominal.  But between the different releases, things are definitely different.  Let's start with the aspect ratio.  The DVD is slightly window-boxed to 1.80:1, an aspect ratio which is corrected by both blus to 1.85:1.  Again, there's no interlacing anymore, but there sure is a lot of noisy compression on the DVDs, which is happily cleaned up by the blus.  But it's a little too cleaned up on Shout's disc.  Look how smooth everything is.  Compare that to the BFI, where we see natural, if light, film grain throughout the image.  Shout definitely did some tinkering to polish the image.  It doesn't look terrible, or as distracting as it is on The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, but it isn't as faithful or naturally filmic.  Also, it isn't too distracting, but there is some black crush on the Shout blu, where details in the heavy shadows which are visible on the BFI disc are erased on Shout's.

So naturally the German version has German audio, in both the original mono and a newer 5.1 mix, and the English has English audio, in mono only.  Across the board.  Shout bumps the audio up to DTS-HD, and BFI has the 5.1 in DTS-HD and the monos in LPCM.  All of the versions have removable English subtitles on the German versions, but only the Shout blu-ray also has optional English subtitles for the English version.
Special features-wise, it's a pretty similar situation to Aguirre, except every release also includes a neat little making of featurette.  It's only about fifteen minutes, but gives a great peek behind-the-scenes.  Otherwise, they all have trailers and another audio commentary with Herzog and Hill, while again Shout steps ahead of the pack with a second Herzog and Straub commentary.  Again, both commentaries are great, but casual fans won't need both.  The blu-rays also have an additional stills gallery.
That same year, immediately after Nosferatu, Herzog called Kinski back for Woyzeck, an adaptation of a famously unfinished German play from the 1800s.  Here we meet a very meek, submissive Kinski; a working class man who's pushed around by his community, and ultimately becomes the agent of a tragic crime.  The broad melodrama of the play makes this film maybe a little less compelling than the previous films, but it's still a very effective crime story with some fascinating subtext, plus Kinski finds an excellent co-star in Eva Mattes, who fans would remember from Stroszek.
1) 2004 AB DVD; 2) 2014 SF blu; 3) 2014 BFI blu.
The film is pillar-boxed to 1.66:1 across the board, but the blu-rays pull out to find a little extra information along all four sides.  Interesting is the shift in color timing to be slightly less natural, but instead embrace the dusty yellow tones of the location.  Grain and detail on the blus are pretty close, but I'd give the slight edge to BFI again.  Speaking of "again," we have a little more black crush going on, though in this case it's very slight, in part perhaps because the film has less deeply dark scenes, but also because Shout handles them a bit better this time.  Like, in this case, I really had to closely look at screenshots to see if I could spot any detail that was dropped, whereas the swaths of empty blackness in Enigma were distracting to witness during my initial viewing.

This film only comes in German mono with removable English subs no matter which disc you choose, though the blus are lossless DTS-HD (Shout) or LPCM (BFI).
There are no audio commentaries this time, which is disappointing.  The DVD is completely barebones apart from the trailer, and BFI only adds a stills gallery.  But Shout steps ahead once again with an hour-long audio-only interview with Herzog and Straub.  It's essentially a mini-audio commentary, focused entirely on Woyzeck, that plays over a single still image.  It's about as good as the other audio commentaries, though being stuck staring at a single frozen image for an hour is a little dry.  The Shout blu has a nice, half-hour doc called Portrait: Werner Herzog.  In turn, the BFI set has a roughly hour long doc called The South Bank Show: Werner Herzog, which runs an hour in length.  They share so much footage in common, that you can essentially describe Portrait as an abridged version of The South Bank Show.  But there's some compelling stuff that Portrait lost, including Herzog describing an early memory that inspired a scene in Heart of Glass and an interview with Herzog's first wife, as well as lighter stuff, like Herzog training with his soccer team.  And there is a tiny bit exclusive to Portrait, too.

And for now, I think I'll wrap this half up.  Join me tomorrow for Herzog/ Kinski, Part 2, where we'll look at the other three Herzog/ Kinski films, and even a related Criterion release.  TTFN.