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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht (aka Nosferatu The Vampire) (1979)

In 19th century Germany, a real estate agent (Bruno Ganz) is sent to Transylvania to close a sale with the mysterious Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski). After seeing a photo of the agent's wife (Isabelle Adjani), the Count has Ganz locked in his castle while he travels to Germany bringing pestilence and plague with him. This isn't so much another version of the Bram Stoker novel as Werner Herzog's homage to the classic F.W. Murnau 1922 silent film NOSFERATU which was an unauthorized version of the novel and precluded actually referring to the title character as Dracula. Even Kinski's make-up is specifically designed to recall Max Schreck's Nosferatu. Visually, the film's most impressive images are silent: Ganz's long journey to the Count's castle, a caterpillar of coffins marching in the town square, Adjani's medieval walk through a plague ridden village etc. Indeed, Adjani's physical performance seems lifted from a silent film. It's not a "scary" horror film, Herzog obviously not interested in frightening us. He imbues the film with a melancholy dread and Kinski's vampire isn't evil but a tortured, miserable soul that can't help himself. Jarringly out of place is Roland Topor's Renfield which makes Dwight Frye in the 1931 film a model of subtlety.

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