With a shoestring budget, a crew of 16, and made in honor of Murnau’s Nosferatu, Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre pursues unique twists while offering us a memorable rendition of the Dracula story. Similar to The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Herzog again turns his focus to a central character that is very much the outsider and very much tormented. With images that aren’t lush and an acting style that is mostly stylized, other films such as Herzog’s Heart of Glass also come to mind.
- Director: Werner Herzog
- Writer: Werner Herzog, Bram Stoker
- Cast: Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz, Roland Topor, Walter Ladengast
Mr. Harker (Ganz) is a married real estate agent and his newest lead is Count Dracula (Kinski), who is looking to purchase property in Wismar. Soon after arriving in Transylvania, Mr. Harker is haunted, becomes trapped, and manages to escape, confirming throughout that Dracula is a vampire. When Dracula decides to visit Wismar himself, everyone in his path is instantly in danger of his bite.
Of all the films I’ve seen about vampires and Dracule, Herzog’s Nosferatu is singular. It is not so much a film seeking to scare you as it is a film seeking to draw you into the life of an outsider. While other films tend to make Dracula some sort of heartthrob, this offers a Dracula that is truly grotesque, much like F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. In both versions, the appeal of Dracula is that he appears despicable but still has the ability to invite compassion. In one scene, he tells Lucy (Adjani) that death is not as cruel as not being able to die. There’s a loneliness there and a longing for love. There’s a great scene where Lucy lures Dracula into her bedroom, seeking to distract him and ultimately destroy him. An unmistakeable degree of sexual tension takes place when Dracula kneels at her bedside, gently touching her body while biting her neck. This type of fatal desire for love creates a sympathy that results in the humanized portrayal of a monster. Adding a greater degree of complexity to his moral turmoil is Dracula’s own distaste for being a predator.
Like other Herzog films, Nosferatu employs a large amount of long takes that provide the film with a hypnotic quality. With the use of handheld camera shots, Herzog draws you into an eerie world in which vampirism seems plausible. When Mr. Harker journeys into Transylvania, when Mrs. Harker is being haunted, and at any point when Dracula’s presence is felt, Nosferatu executes the plot in a stylized manner that forces us to see the essential emotions being evoked, even when certain scenes feel a bit slow. As with many films viewed decades later, there are times when Nosferatu could use a slightly faster pace… particularly during the first 30 minutes. But despite any debate over whether a more economical editing style would have improved the film, the pacing is also part of its appeal. Herzog’s films tend to work on a theoretical level but not to the extent that they lack visceral appeal.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
As Ebert’s review points out, Herzog takes his time building up anticipation before Dracula appears, though I’m not sure so much time is necessary. I do appreciate that the journey to Transylvania is not made to seem scenic, a quality that adds to the ominous tone established, a tone that is sustained throughout by avoiding cheap thrills or the self referential humor of other vampire films. Instead, as Ebert also emphasizes, the film is about dread. Whether or not you enjoy this popular story, it is hard to avoid getting a strong sense of loneliness when experiencing it, much like certain classical music makes us feel something even when we may not have consciously decided whether we like it or not. As usual, Ebert’s review shows an appreciation for the aesthetic qualities that make this a beautiful film. And much like Herzog honored Murnau’s Nosferatu with the making of this film, Ebert honors Herzog’s version by giving credit to the conscious attempts that were made to generate a certain kind of “energy” for audiences to enjoy.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GOOD
Do you like Nosferatu the Vampyre? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: Vivre Sa Vie
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, a monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 363 films (more if you count the trilogies, the Up docs and Decalogue). Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre this week, he now has 333 under his belt and less than 50 films left to go