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Nosferatu, the Vampyre

Werner Herzog's 1979 English-language remake of the classic vampire film.

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That rare remake that neither improves nor dishonors - but certainly rivals - the original.

  • Feb 18, 2012
Rating:
+5
**** out of ****

You know a classic film is close to somebody's heart when, to the Americans, it is foreign; but to the person describing the film, it is native - and yet the person goes on to describe it as the best motion picture ever to come out of their home country. In the case of Werner Herzog - that daring ground-breaker of a filmmaker - F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu" is the best German production ever to grace the silver screen. Nobody just says something like this for the hell of it; Herzog especially must have his good reason for loving the classic, spectacularly spooky (and loose) adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula"; just as we all do. Given his admiration for the original film, you know where he's going with "Nosferatu the Vampyre", which serves as a very close, faithful, and highly successful remake of the Murnau film rather than another old adaptation of the age-old story.

Since the original, 1922 "Nosferatu" was celluloid terror written in Gothic black-and-white visuals and architecture, make-up effects that were decidedly way ahead of its time, and a unique take on a classic tale of vampirism; there were indeed things that were in need of updating, as well as things that probably should have been left alone. Luckily, Herzog sees everything; from the world to the movies that he watches, and he knew what had to be done. What he offers up is a visual update of the story, filled with his own stylistic touches. He also provides a more emotionally resonant vampire than that of the original "Nosferatu". I cannot say whether it improves on the Murnau film or not; all I know is that it certainly doesn't dishonor it, and that's all that matters.

Sure enough, not much has changed plot-wise; although this time, Herzog is able to avoid the copyright issues that Murnau faced when making the original; thus, he's able to use the character names brought up in Bram Stoker's classic novel. Most of the time, the story is familiar (given that some stuff differentiates; but not too much), but Herzog laces it with enough spectacle and atmosphere to make up for any form of déjà vu.

A real-estate agent, Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz), is sent from his native land of Wismar, Germany to the obscure and mountainous regions of Transylvania. It is there that he shall meet a client interested in purchasing a new home in Wismar; Count Dracula is his name. The journey is long and complicated; but Jonathan is able to make it to the Count's large-but-creepy castle in one piece. He arrives at night; which is, as we learn, a good time for the Count (Klaus Kinski), as he seems to resent the daytime hours. He allows Jonathan to stay in his home for a few days and a few nights so that the proper paperwork can get dealt with; and also so that the two can get more properly acquainted.

As we've been brought up to expect from this legendary story; the Count is a vampire. But Jonathan does not believe in such creatures; regardless of the various warnings given to him by a few gypsy-types on his way to the estate. His beliefs will be put to the test when the classic clichés and tropes of vampirism will come alive when he observes the Count's behavior and actions from a distance. Think of it: nobody knows where he sleeps; he never shows during the day; his skin is pale, his head bald; his teeth resemble that of a rat, and his ears a bat; and his fingernails are long and slender. If that isn't enough to convince Jonathan that his newest customer is a bloodsucking devil, then I haven't a single idea what is.

Here is what happens from then on: the Count samples the blood of Jonathan, becomes entranced by a photograph of his beautiful wife (who is at home) whose name is Lucy (Isabelle Adjani), locks him in the house the next morning, and stows away onto a ship headed for Wismar via coffin, his favorite method of transportation next to the boat the delivers him. And when the boat enters the harbor of Wismar; Herzog is at his prime. The image of the ship containing Count Dracula yet again coming into contact with land and bringing death-by-plague - not to mention an entire rat infestation - to wherever it may anchor. Above all, I think that Herzog displays his affection for storytelling through the imagery of his films; which often takes the place of narrative conventions and plot. If anything, I think the film is visual storytelling at its finest.

Aside from the suitably intoxicating scenes taking place inside the remarkably Gothic castle of Count Dracula; what gives the film its beauty is the humanity in the Dracula character himself. I think it's rather surprising how, when looking at horror movie history, the most humanity comes not from actual human beings; but rather the creatures - however humanoid they may be - which are labeled by society as monsters. Kinski portrays the Count as lonely, loveless, and unable to die; a horrible combination of the three. He cannot ease his pain as the mortals of the world can; he sees his vampirism as a curse, and one that he cannot uplift. I didn't see such depth in the original film; although perhaps I saw something more all-together and therein lays the magic of Herzog's "Nosferatu" remake. It isn't Murnau's "Nosferatu"; it is purely Herzog's movie, and he makes that known through scenes that depict a sort of spiritual connection with nature, architecture, and location. Then again, maybe that's just Herzog's own relationship with his style of filmmaking. I recognize that this is an impossible bond to break; the sign of a true artist, more or less.

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February 22, 2012
With a keenly singular perspective unique to its script, his favorite lunatic morose in the title role opposite Central Europe's greatest cinema actor of the '70s and gorgeous Adjani (vibrant, if not yet at the peak of her powers) as the tragic engenue, Herzog couldn't have possibly botched this one. Never mind his rightful, gushing adulation for Murnau; the bleak gothic despair of this isn't analogous to that of Aguirre, Enigma of Caspar Hauser, Stroszek or any of his most dire documentaries. However, traces of this ambiance later informed his first opera productions in the '80s; oddly, his Faustus and Chushingura benefit from the transposition of this peculiar despond.

Thanks for this very thorough review.
 
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More Nosferatu, the Vampyre reviews
review by . January 17, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Lighting, directing, Kinski, scenery     Cons: maybe slow, but worth it     The Bottom Line: A must see for those with that vampire feeling inside        The Oracle says: Martje Grohmann has a Bacon number of 3.       Martje Grohmann was in Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979) with Dan van Husen    Dan van Husen was in Avalanche Express (1979) with Maximilian Schell    Maximilian Schell …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Wiki

Approaching the legendary German classic 1922 film NOSFERATU -EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUENS by F.W. Murnau with his own unique sensibilities, Werner Herzog establishes a link between himself and the classic days of German cinema and in the process crafts a lush adaptation as well as a classic in its own right. Stark, symbolic cinematography and intensely stylized performances create what Herzog refers to as a different plane of reality, injecting the age-old tale of Count Dracula with a modern sense of mysticism, desire, and wonder. <br> <br> Frequent Herzog collaborator Klaus Kinski portrays the Dracula character with a silent intensity, tingeing the vampire's inhuman monstrosity with a deep sense of pathos and longing. Completing a stellar international cast are Bruno Ganz (a regular in the films of Wim Wenders) and French film star Isabelle Adjani, both giving subtle yet compelling performances as the formerly happy couple who fall prey to Dracula's lust for life and love. From the opening image of rows...
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Details

Director: Werner Herzog
Genre: Horror
Release Date: October 1, 1979
MPAA Rating: PG
Screen Writer: Werner Herzog
Runtime: 1hr 47min
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment, 20th Century Fox
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