“The patient that came in yesterday is having a fit.”
“The one that bit the cow.”
In 1922, Nosferatu became one of the first Dracula adaptations to make it to the silver screen. It was also an illegal adaptation, changing names but ultimately keeping the story the same without licensing permission. Bram Stoker’s widow sued and many prints were destroyed, but the film (thankfully) survived in other nations across the world. The original Nosferatu, though obviously owing much to Stoker’s text, is a masterpiece of horror cinema and one of the finest films made during the silent period.
In 1979, Werner Herzog, one of the most interesting filmmakers working today, remade Nosferatu in color and sound with his regular madman Klaus Kinski playing the vampire fiend. It’s an odd film for Herzog, a director known for his original vision of the world. And while I like it, I don’t really consider it one of his best. At times, I feel like he’s mimicking the classic’s scenes too closely, particularly when hero Bruno Ganz recoils in horror from the vampire in a way that’s too theatrical for a 70’s genre film.
The film works better when it starts doing its own thing in the final act. When the vampire finds his way to civilization, he brings the black plague with him. The streets are clogged with plague-carrying rats. Coffins pile up outside homes. Sheep wander without a shepherd to guide them. The people dance and party, knowing death will soon claim them as well. It’s the most surreal section of the film and the most Herzogian. I believe that the original Nosferatu and other Dracula tales had similar sequences, but Herzog’s Nosferatu makes the most of the awful concept of a vampire-orchestrated plague.
With long fingernails, pointed teeth, giant ears, and black circles around his eyes, Kinski’s Count is one of the best realized vampires in movies. The look is directly based on the original, of course. However, it’s Kinski’s ability to go from a steady calm to fury that made his performance noteworthy. I recently discovered that Kinski played the part again in the Herzog-less Nosferatu in Venice, so that’s now on my list.
Tomorrow: Brian De Palma’s Carrie.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of books and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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