Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, Werner Herzog)

Werner Herzog’s homage to Murnau’s 1922 silent classic, Nosferatu, is a frustrating film, all things considered. In a lot of ways, it encapsulates Herzog’s ability to swing from the bad to the brilliant between films, sometimes even between scenes.

The disappointment of Nosferatu is that there are moments of true brilliance in the film, isolated from one another with only dull, insipid sequences to bridge the gap. I’ve always maintained that the single most important quality for any horror film is not how scary it is, but the quality of the atmosphere evoked.

The opening shot of skeletons, images of thousands of rats running through deserted town squares, Dracula’s famous silhouette projected onto the side of a house and picturesque rides through the countryside are effective mood setters. The entire film is wonderfully shot and in particular, the injection of Vorspiel from Wagner’s Das Rheingold makes for an incredibly powerful sequence in which Jonathan Harker travels to Dracula’s home against the advice of the local villagers.

But it is let down by a plodding narrative and stilted, almost comical acting. Klaus Kinski appears shackled in his role as Dracula often appearing, unintentionally, a silly (and dated) looking harbinger of doom and pestilence. Bruno Ganz as the film’s protagonist, Jonathan Harker, is forgettable and Isabelle Adjani is dreadful as Lucy Harker.

Nosferatu picks up considerably for the last half once Dracula makes his way to Harker’s village by ship. It comes too late, unfortunately, and Herzog’s ode to Murnau is a faithful remake but one that swings too wildly in quality. (5)

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