World Cinema Wednesday: Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979)
AKA 31 Days Of Horror #12
Properly AKA Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht.
Based on the 1922 film, which was an unofficial interpretation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this horror film from the peerless Werner Herzog takes the vampiric essence of the tale and then uses it, perhaps unsurprisingly, to give viewers a dreamy, ethereal, darkly poetic look at life, death, disease, and love. It may not tick all of the usual boxes for those looking for a standard vampire tale, or just any kind of horror movie, but those seeking interesting and eminently rewatchable art would do well to seek it out.
Klaus Kinski plays Count Dracula, and anyone reading this will surely be aware of how the story plays out for him (in general). Bruno Ganz is Jonathan Harker, and Isabelle Adjani is his lovely wife, Lucy. Other notable characters include Renfield (Roland Topor), Van Helsing (Walter Ladengast), and a whole lot of rats.
Starting things off with some impressively creepy imagery not necessarily relating to the rest of the opening act, Herzog then decides to take things slowly, building up a sense of unease and cloying terror that turns a tale often told in grandiose terms into something more intimate, and at times even claustrophobic. And yet, despite the way in which events are depicted, a number of scenes in the third act still manage to feel horribly bleak and apocalyptic, all thanks to the pestilence and madness brought about by Dracula’s journey from his home to the town in which Lucy resides.
Kinski is superb in the central role, although it has to be said that he’s helped immensely by some great make-up transforming him into the bald, rodent-like, vampire. Ganz and Adjani are both a match for the male lead, with the film only disappointing slightly whenever Topor or Ladengast are onscreen. They’re not bad, not at all, but it’s obvious that Herzog has decided to sideline their characters in an attempt to keep his focus on the central “love triangle”. With that being said, both characters at least get one or two moments of note during the second half of the proceedings. The rats are also worth mentioning again, mainly because more than a few were lost (mortally speaking) for the sake of the director’s very specific vision.
Herzog is typically intriguing and fearless with his approach to the material, but he also manages to intertwine his own agenda with the dark through line of the original film. The result is one of those rare things, a remake that equals the original (some people even think it surpasses it). Dark, creepy, sometimes outright bizarre, and completely unforgettable.
If you’re a fan of this film, and if you’re an even bigger fan of the cinematic work of Klaus Kinski, then I HIGHLY recommend Real Depravities: The Films Of Klaus Kinski, written by Troy Howarth. It’s a meaty 400+ pages all about the man’s filmography, with every film given plenty of discussion, numerous tales scattered here and there, and plenty of great photographs throughout. Grab yourself that, pair it up with Kinski Uncut, and you’ll have two very different angles covered.
DIRECTOR: WERNER HERZOG
WRITER: WERNER HERZOG, BRAM STOKER (UNCREDITED)
STARS: KLAUS KINSKI, ISABELLE ADJANI, BRUNO GANZ, ROLAND TOPOR, WALTER LADENGAST
RUNTIME: 107 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: WEST GERMANY/FRANCE