Dan van Husen
Rijk de Gooyer
Lo van Hensbergen
Trivia The scene where Nosferatu arrives in the city required thousands of grey rats. Real grey rats were unavailable and therefore white ones were painted grey and used instead.
The director cameos as the person who sticks his foot into the coffin and gets his toe bitten by a rat.
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Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979)
12th Oct 05
A remake of F. W. Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu
Review (Part of Anchor Bay's Box of Blood)
Werner Herzog had an impressive enough CV by the time he decided to remake Murnau’s prototype vamp film, Nosferatu. Having already helmed such classics as Aguirre, the Wrath of God and The Enigma of Kasper
Hauser, he had not only defined a filmic flavour of his own but had also become intrinsically associated with his best friend and worst enemy - the one and only Klaus Kinski.
You’re no doubt familiar with the plot: Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania in order to close a deal with the Count on a long derelict property in Harker’s hometown of Wismar, Germany. After being bitten, Harker becomes infected with the blood while still in Castle Dracula. Meanwhile, The Bald One sneaks off to Wismar, boarding a vessel loaded with soil-filled coffins, and makes his way to his new pad, sucking the life out of the boat’s crew on the way and bringing a plague present to the German town. Harker, barely alive, treks his way back to his beloved Lucy, fearing for her life at the hands of our not-so-attractive vampire friend, but by the time he arrives back in Wismar he is amnesiac and feverish. Dr Van Helsing then intervenes to help and you probably know roughly what happens next.
Herzog has crafted an impressive looking film here. But if you grow tiresome of a brooding sense of atmosphere and gorgeous photography quite easily, then you may want to give this one a miss and look for something pacier. His staging of events is undeniably well portrayed with an unnerving sense of dread and sorrow existent throughout, but in today's climate of popular 'entertainment' values, artistic films like this can often fall by the wayside instead of gaining the critical reassessment they deserve.
If the original Nosferatu can be perceived as slow and boring, then don’t be misled by presuming that this remake will be much different. Herzog hasn’t let the mood of the original stray toward a more commercial path and has instead remained loyal to the dreamy mood of Murnau’s original adaptation, and this will both alienate viewers and attract new fans.
Admittedly long shots and scenes are accompanied by hauntingly effective musical pieces (from Popol Vuh and Wagner), which don't seem to deviate from one or two motifs very often. But it works and feels totally appropriate to the scenes in question. A few scenes stand out as undeniable celluloid magic:
- The Last Supper. When the remaining plague survivors of Wismar gather to eat at a table in the middle of town, surrounded by a mass of rats, highlighting the intensity of pestilence, disease and evil that has taken over the town.
- The boat docking by itself. All aboard are dead. The dead captain is tied to the wheel. Nothing appears to be alive, except for a multitude of rats, as it slowly but purposefully navigates its own way into the town in what it perhaps the film's longest shot. And probably its best.
- The Coffin March. When Lucy runs into the town square to be met with a long, snaking row of coffins full of plague victims being carried through Wismar. Eerie and unforgettable, to say the least.
The performances in Nosferatu - The Vampyre are a mixed bag. Old Ratface Kinski handles the role with aplomb, as well as some very scary-looking hands - very useful for pointing at things. It's the kind of role Kinski no doubt loved getting his teeth into (sorry!) and manages to portray the Count with a fair share of subtle poignancy, almost hypnotic in his undead magnetism. In contrast to Max Schreck though, he’s a short-arse. He seems to be shorter than Harker but then again I suppose old people are small eh? Perhaps casting the Count tall and super-lanky like Schreck would have seemed easy, almost too obvious.
Bruno Ganz who plays Jonathan Harker isn’t so convincing though. He seems wooden, uncharismatic and his performance only gets halfway interesting toward the latter part of the film. A shame, considering he’s got so much screen time. Isabell Adjani plays his love, Lucy, and although she is undeniably lush to look at (not much wonder Baldy Ratface Dracula wants her!), her performance is nothing special or memorable. The role of Renfield goes to Roland Topor who really gives it 110% but maybe that extra 10% is a bit too much. He’s clearly having a great time with it though, and it undoubtedly the most maniacal cackle-happy incarnation of the character ever! ”Blood is life!” Indeed, Renfield, indeed.
This is a worthy remake of Murnau’s film. His use of beautifully haunting German landscapes and his own style of shot composition interplayed with a dreamlike, almost unnatural narrative rhythm that could just as easily make you fall asleep as it could suck you in. This is the kind of cinema that washes over you like a historically significant landscape painting. You can admire it time and time again if you like landscape paintings, but if colourful comic artwork is more your bag, please leave the gallery.
Versions All scenes with dialogue were shot twice: once with the actors speaking English and once with them speaking German.