Stylish and Dark
I remember all too well sitting in a dark Tel Aviv movie house on a summer afternoon and watching Klaus Kinski as the ugliest vampire I had ever seen. The film was “Nosferatu the Vampyre”, director Werner Herzog’s tribute to F. W. Murnau, whom he considers to be Germany’s greatest filmmaker, as well as a haunting gothic horror tale in its own right. It is a remake of Murnau’s 1922 film “Nosferatu”, which is the earliest surviving cinematic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula”. Herzog has combined ideas from Murnau’s film, Bram Stoker’s novel, and his own imagination in creating a film that is, if anything, even more expressionistic and romanticist than the 1922 masterpiece. It is also more languid and pathetic than other “Dracula” adaptations.
Set in Germany and Transylvania Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) is a real estate agent employed by a madman named Renfield (Roland Topor) to deliver a contract to Count Dracula in Transylvania, who wishes to purchase property in Wismar, Germany. When he reaches his destination, Jonathan finds a hideous, predatory Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski) eager to sign the deed to his new home. Several days later, ill and traumatized by horrors that he experienced at Dracula’s castle, Jonathan understands that his young wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) will be in grave danger if Dracula reaches Wismar and sets out to save her. Count Dracula’s arrival in Wismar coincides with the Plague. The city is overrun with rats and its population decimated by disease. Only Lucy comprehends the nature of the evil that has befallen the city and understands what she must do to stop it.
Herzog’s film moves slowly but steadily and spends time with the characters. Count Dracula closely is grotesque— rodent-like and closely associated with rats and the Plague. He laments his permanent un-dead existence without light or love for centuries, which makes him a tragic character. Although Count Dracula is the force that drives the narrative, the first half of the film is about Jonathan, and the second half concentrates on Lucy (Isabelle Adjani). Lucy is stronger and smarter than the characters that surround her, and she tries her best to save everyone in spite of their blindness.
The film is beautifully shot with glorious music and a wonderful performance by Klaus Kinski Dracula. This isn’t an ordinary vampire movie, it doesn’t have any scares, it doesn’t have any bloody scenes either, it’s not made to scare or gross the audience, it’s made to give the audience remarkable visions of vampires, so masterfully done that they are impossible to forget.
Watching “Nosferatu” is like having a disturbing dream— the images have an hallucinogenic, archetypal quality. Writer-director Werner Herzog began with F.W. Murnau’s expressionist classic, mixed in elements from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, then set about creating a meditation on the vampire myth. We begin to wonder what would it really mean to live forever, and be compelled to feed on the blood of others? What of the unspeakable boredom? The longing for companionship? For normalcy? For death? As played by Klaus Kinski, Herzog’s Dracula has spent hundreds, if not thousands of years alone with these thoughts. Herzog, Kinski, and the rest of the cast keep it all beautifully stylized and all works.