Film Review: Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Werner Herzog’s most overtly genre-specific film from his classic era, the weird thing about Nosferatu the Vampyre is that it still feels quintessensially Herzog, despite being a reasonably faithful reworking of the Murnau original, which as we all know was a reasonably faithful rip-off of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Atmosphere hangs heavy, Popol Vuh deliver another beautifully moody score and Klaus Kinski makes for an unforgettably strange screen vampire, visually indebted to Max Schreck, but adding extra layers of pathos. The film also outdoes most Dracula films by making Jonathan Harker (officially one of the dullest characters in popular culture) a genuinely entertaining presence, thanks to Bruno Ganz’s vivid, sympathetic turn. In a diversion from the accepted text, he even gets to have some fun as the film progresses, especially in the last few scenes. The visuals are rich in gloomy ambience (the opening title sequences is memorably morbid) and the direction is gloriously sedate. Isabelle Adjani also makes for a striking, wide-eyed Lucy (if you notice, she rarely blinks) – it’s a very mannered performance but a enrapturing one, especially when she and Kinski share their fated moment together. Given Herzog’s idiosyncratic approach, the film is also surprisingly funny – the penultimate scene laugh-out-loud hilarious, in fact. Deeply creepy, but also melancholic, it’s a eerily luxurious experience.

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