Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

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Harker could see nothing unusual about the Count's countenance.
Harker could see nothing unusual about the Count’s countenance.

Twitter Plot Summary: Jonathan Harker journeys to the castle of Count Dracula to sell him a house. Unfortunately the Count happens to be a vampire.

Five Point Summary:

1. Mein Gott! Dialogue!
2. Wish those wolves would shut up…
3. He’s looking a bit peaky.
4. Silly run through the courtyard.
5. Never go back for more.

The original Nosferatu was dogged by copyright infringement issues back in the 1920s, for reasons of which I will discuss in my review of that film, however by the time of Werner Herzog’s remake in 1979 such issues were in the distant past and there was subsequently no problems with calling the count Dracula. Herzog presents events in his usual moderately cheap appearance. This relative level of cheapness doesn’t extend to the makeup on Dracula, however – he is in essence a human-sized rat with pointed ears, long spindly fingers and extended sharp teeth on his central incisors rather than the oft-expected canines. And admittedly whilst I may complain about the cheap appearance of the film, that’s not to say it doesn’t look amazing  – Herzog picks out a number of truly remarkable shots, and the setting itself has a beauty that is hard to describe. It embraces the gothic aspects of the locations, which are enhanced by Herzog’s direction and use of light and dark throughout. It’s a haunting piece, to say the least.

Kinski presents Dracula as an incredibly melancholic figure, cursed with everlasting life and forced to watch those he loves grow old and die. He drinks the blood of his victims through necessity rather than evil intent, and is an empathetic figure as a direct result of Kinski’s performance. Yes the Count looks horrific to all extents and purposes, but despite his longevity he still only feeds to survive. Whilst a thoroughly unpleasant thing to look at, it’s easy to see where the romantic angle of the vampire myth comes into play in this instance, enhanced by inherent levels of tragedy.

Vampires will always cop a feel if the opportunity presents itself. Fact.
Vampires will always cop a feel if the opportunity presents itself. Fact.

It’s even more tragic for him in that he is a bringer of plague, a bringer of death. No matter where he goes, this is his curse. Soon after arriving in Harker’s home town the plague follows, and Dracula is bewitched by the beauty of Harker’s wife Lucy (not Mina, although confusingly Mina is a character in this remake, albeit not Harker’s betrothed). They represent two opposing sides, the count all in black – plague, death and disease are his companions – and Lucy in white – purity, beauty and goodness on her side. It’s also an interesting rewrite of the original tale, where in this instance it is Lucy who has power – she is not the weak-willed woman depicted by Stoker and is instrumental in Dracula’s downfall.

It’s another classic tale where an existential crisis lies at its centre, primarily through Dracula himself, but also through Harker who is almost drained to the point of death by the count. In this instance the script isn’t afraid to go away from Stoker’s original and we end in a completely different manner to the aforementioned source material. Without going into spoilers (obviously) there’s actually room for a sequel that would have existed on its own merits. Suffice to say there is plenty of room for interpretation in a finale that covers everything from love to sacrifice to new beginnings, with a side portion of lust and desire just for giggles. To say this remake of Nosferatu is intriguing would be an understatement – rife with themes and cannily presented, it is a perfect example of a director/star collaboration in its prime.

Score: 5/5

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