THE GOLEM: Kino Restores a Silent Horror Classic

One of cinema’s first Frankenstein stories gets a brand new 4K restoration on home video

With much of silent cinema being lost to time, it’s always exciting to see the results of a new restoration of an influential classic. It’s one of the closest things we have artistically to resurrecting the dead, to bring new life to an unwatchable nitrate or celluloid print and make it look like the film was shot yesterday. It’s an unparalleled peek into a world long since vanished, and allows us to further close the gap between our past and present.

The Golem is an iconic silent horror movie, which alongside such greats as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu helped establish the visual grammar and structure for modern horror films we know it. What The Golem adds to this group, though, is how it draws upon Yiddish folklore in telling a story about the futility of playing God and creating the one of the first cinematic incarnations of the Frankenstein archetype.

The Golem tells the story of a 16th-Century Rabbi who creates a powerful servant from clay to protect his village from anti-Semites, only to have it bring destruction the more it slips from the Rabbi’s control. For its time, The Golem features stunning practical effects in bringing both the story and its characters to life, particularly in the film’s conjuring and reanimation sequences. What’s fascinating, though, is how these fantastical sequences play into Wegener’s telling of a story of religious persecution. The Golem is created out of the Holy Roman Emperor’s decree to banish the Jews from the Prague Ghetto; and once the Golem is made, it is summoned before the court where it can be ogled as an example of Jewish mysticism. It isn’t long before these mocked forces unleash their destructive powers, ones that don’t discriminate between faiths, as the Rabbi’s creation wreaks havoc on Prague.

I can only imagine that, at the height of industrialized and secular Weimar Germany, that a film like The Golem aroused the same curiosity and fascination in its audience towards its folklore premise as the titular creature did for the Royal court. In that sense, it’s fascinating how, amidst all of its spellbinding effects and blazing climactic furor, The Golem uses that fascination against its audience. In his characters’ creation of this being as a means for survival, only to have it grow out of their own control, Wegener seems to push our views towards ancient folklore from a place of passive curiosity to one of genuine respect, if not fear.

It’s a rich thematic well that Wegener continued to draw from, as this iteration of The Golem was the second out of three attempts the director would make to put this tale on screen. With the ravages of time, though, only this film and fragments of the first survive today. Thanks to the efforts of the FW Murnau Foundation in collaboration with other international film archives, The Golem received a wondrous new restoration in 2018 and is now preserved for home video courtesy of Kino Lorber.


Kino Lorber presents The Golem in 1080p in 1.33:1 pillarbox, sourced from a 4K restoration of the German release version by the FW Murnau Foundation. Sourced from an array of footage to create the most complete version of the film possible, The Golem is remarkably preserved for a film that’s now a century old. Much of the film is free of scratches and other aging, making The Golem look like a tinted play rather than the aged film it is. What interstitial lower-quality segments there are are few and far between, and don’t distract from the overall experience. The only eyebrow-raising restoration decisions are some text inserts that are plain text rather than written on props — though this only appears a handful of times through the film.

The film defaults to a score by Stephen Horne, while also featuring additional variations by Admir Shkurtaj and Lukasz “Wudec” Poleszak. Horne’s score is traditionally piano/strings-based, creating an experience more akin to how theatergoers must have viewed The Golem back in 1920. Shkurtaj’s score is heavily experimental in its shrill rhythms, lending this traditional horror story a more modern, terrifyingly discordant feel. Poleszak’s score is more of a hybrid of the two, incorporating period instrumentation, experimental electronica, and even diegetic sound-effects.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary by film historian Tim Lucas. Lucas deftly explores The Golem’s mythological and cinematic context, revealing how much influence (and liberty) was taken from Yiddish myth to create a film whose legacy reverberates through future horror cinema.
  • Restoration Comparison which not only shows the results of restoring The Golem, but also the key differences between the German and US release versions.
  • US Release Version, which runs a truncated 15 minutes shorter than the German version, as well as rearranges and retitles much of the film. Score by Cordula Heath. Also presented in 1080p from a 2018 preservation negative by the George Eastman Museum. While this version of The Golem isn’t as restored as its German counterpart, it remains an interesting variation on the same material, especially in how German and American audiences approached a story so inspired by Yiddish tradition.

The Golem is now available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber.

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The Golem — [Blu-ray] [DVD]

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