NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE
Reviewed by: Jamey Hughton
What's it about
Jonathan Harker travels through the Carpathian Mountains and into Transylvania in order to seal a real estate deal with the sun-deprived Count Dracula.
Is it good movie?
In case you weren’t aware (and you skip the “What’s it About?” part of these reviews), NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE is just another reworking of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, albeit with a very different look for the Count himself than most are accustomed to. Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake of F.W. Murnau’s classic 1922 silent film features Klaus Kinski in an indelible performance as Dracula, portrayed by Max Schreck in Murnau’s version. I’ve never seen the original NOSFERATU, which I’m sure puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to fully appreciating Herzog’s elegantly made art horror film, which is obviously intended to honor it.
The general narrative from Stoker’s “Dracula” remains intact. Harker (Bruno Ganz) is leaving the lovely Lucy (the lovely Isabelle Adjani) behind on the way to Castle Dracula. Once there, Harker meets the Count, who looks like a cave-dwelling humanoid and seems to be fixated on necks. And blood. After the obvious happens, Dracula travels via ship back to the town of Wismar to claim his new property. Racing to stop him on horseback is Harker, but a serious fever - not to mention impending vampirism - turn him into a drooling vegetable with memory loss (!?) just as Dracula prepares to paint the town red with the help of underling Renfield (Roland Topor, ferociously overacting).
As someone familiar with Dracula through American retellings like Tod Browning’s 1931 classic and Francis Ford Coppola’s kick-ass 1992 version, it’s interesting to note some of the differences in NOSFERATU. For instance, Dr. Van Helsing (Walter Ladengast) is not so much a fearless vampire hunter here. He’s a man of science and completely skeptical about the notion of vampires, and his infamous staking skills are rendered moot because (in an interesting twist) the movie’s leading lady is the one who faces down Dracula in the end. There’s also the addition of an army of rats that Dracula unleashes, which spread the Bubonic plague through Wismar.
Overall, NOSFERATU is very different from most screen translations of this legendary story. It’s not a film with anything to offer the hardcore horror fan (there’s barely a drop of blood). It is also very measured in its pacing, dwelling on imagery for long periods without much forward narrative momentum. However, this isn’t a criticism from me, because Herzog has a real command of the visual side of the film - one of the most striking shots is a long take featuring the pale white visage of Kinski creeping through shadow toward a victim. Still, many viewers will be turned off by the very slooooooow nature of the movie and the sometimes-clumsy performances and dialogue.
Speaking of Kinski, he makes for asurprisingly soulful and haunting Count Dracula. The actor plays the Count as a sad figure who looks at mortal beings with envy as he goes on living for eternity, locked away in his castle. There’s a lot of intricate themes being stitched together through the film, making it more of a recommendation to lovers of artsy classic cinema than to general horror fans.
Video / Audio
Video 1.85:1 Widescreen. It’s a very nice transfer of the film.
Audio English Dolby Digital 5.1
The film’s Theatrical Trailer is the lonely extra on the disc.
NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE is a must-see for those with a soft spot for gorgeous, ornate, creepy cinema. I do feel a little compelled to seek out the original now and come back and give this one a second look.