Thursday, June 23, 2011


The opening credit sequence for Werner Herzog’s 1979 adaptation of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu features creepy mummified beings scored to beautiful music ...

and followed by a closeup of two adorably playful kittens. 

This film was made for me.
Quick Plot: Jonathan Harker (the wonderful Wings of Desire’s wonderful Bruno Wonderful Ganz) must head to the ominous castle of Count Dracula, a Mr. Burns-y hermit with --

Aw heck, you know the story. It’s Dracula, plain and simple. Mina is actually Lucy (just ‘cause) and she’s played by the gorgeous Isabelle Adjani, one of, perhaps, the only actresses that could dare face-play against the glorious insanity of Klaus Kinski. 

There’s a whole lot to love about Herzog’s film, so rather than a straightforward review (it’s DRACULA for goodness sake), here’s a list of all that works about it:
-The three lead performances are, plain and simple, perfect for the material. Ganz brings intrigue to a role usually reserved for pretty boys, Adjani’s facial expressions are straight out of the silent film era and Kinski is shockingly restrained (yet still typically creepy) as the titular demon
-Within five minutes of Nosferatu’s running time, it hit me that I needed to turn off all the lights in La Casa Dolls to fully appreciate the insanely beautiful camerawork. Take, for example, Jonathan’s trek to the castle. It’s a scene that goes on far longer than necessary, but between a fertile but empty landscape, shadowed ruins, and a cloudy night sky slowly parting to let in a haunting blue light, I could not take my eyes off the screen. 

This goes for just about every frame of the film, be it Lucy’s lonely beach walk or a disorienting overhead shot of coffins marching through a desolate village.

-Dracula’s boat trip is more painful than the movie Boat Trip, and I mean that as a huge compliment (and probably the only one that will ever involve the movie Boat Trip). The journey is usually skirted over or entirely ignored in most adaptations, but Herzog gives it plenty of weight, letting the trip herald in a deadly plague that wreaks havoc over Lucy’ and Jonathan’s home town. This eventually gives us an almost apocalyptic view as Lucy roams an emptying village and the few remaining citizens resign themselves to impending death.

-Though I won’t spoil the ending, it’s certainly worth acknowledging that it departs from the usual Dracula finale and wow, it’s pretty great.
Low Points
Word on the cinema street is that Herzog wasn’t overly nice to those thousands of rat cast members, which makes me a little sad

Lessons Learned
Pigs do not stop walking to poop. I did not know this fact

One should probably not dip one’s toes inside a mysterious rat-infested coffin. I’m not a doctor or anything, but this advice seems sound
You know, there are starving children in China who would kill to eat those grapes. (Note: this comment is directed towards vampires who seem to thrive on wasting decadent banquets)

I rented the German version of Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht through Netflix, since general consensus is that it’s superior (Herzog filmed an English version simultaneously with the same cast, also available as a separate disc). Clearly, I recommend this film with all the muster I’ve got. Dracula tales don’t generally do too much for me, but Herzog’s approach--essentially, creating an homage to Murnau’s original--is incredibly striking from both a visual and audio standpoint. The music is gripping and the imagery, absolutely breathtaking. Add in a Ka-razzzzzy Kinski (well-supported by a fantastic Adjani and Ganz) and you have a film that’s simply a joy to experience.


  1. I haven't seen Herzog's Nosferatu yet which would probably be a crime, but I've at least seen the Murnau one (Max Shreck FTW). I'll need to watch it sometime, although animal trauma is always uncomfortable *ugh*!

  2. Hey, I was guilty of said crime until a week ago so fear not. And the animal trauma isn't there onscreen. No rat holocaust or the like. It's just one of those behind-the-scenes tidbits that the dozens of hundreds of thousands of rodent extras didn't all survive to collect their paycheck.

  3. Which Nosferatu do you think is scarier, Klaus Kinski or Max Shreck?

  4. Just been reading your Black Devil Doll from Hell review. Have you heard about what happened to Chester Novell Turner? He died in a car crash sometime in the 90's!

  5. Hm. I'm a sucker for German expressionism, and I think the simple film styling of the original helps make Shreck so haunting. Kinski has more of a sadness that almost makes me pity Nosferatu, so I guess I'd go with Shreck.

    I think I knew that Turner died early but I'd forgotten and now I'm sad! The world needs more incredibly bizarre and terribly made yet fascinating horror films!

  6. I'm not an audio commentary fan, for the most part, but I find that any of the Herzog/Kinski commentaries are as equally entertaining as the films themselves. From what I can recall, in reference to the rats, they were initially white, lab rats which were dyed gray, and some didn't survive the process. Poor rats. Perhaps their stint in the film world saved them from the undoubtedly, horrific fate of being confined to a cage for lab experiments?

  7. Oooh I've yet to listen to a H/K commentary but I imagine it'd be amazing. I'm a huge commentary fan though, so it's really a certainty. I wonder if this is out on Blu Ray? I may need to buy myself a 4th of July present (then find a friendly Bronx street rat to dye red white and blue)...

  8. I have this in the Herzog-Kinski box set I own (I've only watched Aguirre, The Wrath of God so far) so I think I might watch it this weekend.

    I've never seen the Murnau version of Nosferatu. Pre-30s films scare me for some reason, regardless of the subject matter.

    Fun fact: the only Dracula adaptation I've seen is Coppola's version. Yeah, I know.

  9. Great review. I love this film, dying to see this one in HD.

  10. Scare you as in 'aaah! nightmares!' or as in 'ugh, I'll fall asleep from boredom?' As much as I'm not the biggest classic horror fan, I have a soft squishy spot for the silent films of the '20s. I find them incredibly haunting and painfully beautiful, plus they usually have great scores.

    You're forgiven for the Coppola credit. I saw it in the theaters! And based a large chunk of my first research paper (6th grade) on it!

  11. Oh and Nigel, the original Dracula is pretty much accepted now to be a landmark film, but not an especially good one.

    Thanks Bonjour!

  12. I got this in a Herzog boxset and had never seen it. I love what Adjani does with her eyes when Kinski shows up. This could be my favorite Klaus role next to Aguirre. Too bad he didn't want to be in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and said "the screenplay is the same tired old shit" Seeing a Klaus facemelt....that would have been too cool.

  13. Scare me as in unsettle me deeply. Could be horror, could be a comedy, could be a melodrama. I've never watched a silent film in full. I'd explain my fear it but it honestly makes me sound like a crazy person.

    I love Coppola's Dracula. It's what got me into movies in the first place, at just the right age too (I was 16 at the time, and also saw it in the theater). It blew me away - had no idea movies could be so awesome.

  14. Seeing Klaus do ANYTHING is pretty cool. Speaking of, Crawlspace is on the TCM channel this weekend at some ungodly hour. It's a great chance to see Kinski on roller skates!

    And Nigel, I can see what you mean with silent films. If you're not watching them specifically for technical reasons, there is something really odd and unnerving about how they come across. I would definitely urge a viewing of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu though.

    I haven't sat down with Coppola's Dracula in a while. I appreciate the ambition of it and would easily call it one of the most gorgeous films of the '90s, though I think my overall assessment would be that it's kind of a mess. A really pretty and sexy mess though!

  15. Silent movies can be very unsettling. No shame in feeling that way. I've loved the few I've seen.

    Dr. Caligari was delirously demented and may cause a bit of vertigo with its M.C. Escher-like stage sets, so be warned.

    Nosferatu is one of the best Dracula films ever. I sort of believe Max Schrek was a real vampire.

    But Vampyr is a descent into a mind-bending abyss that begs to be seen. The plot isn't of importance and frankly, hard to follow. Bu seeing Dreyer at work is staggering. And talk about creepy! Girls turning into monsters, premature burials! It's the stuff of legend. Certainly worth a look. German Surrealism rocks.

    As for Herzog, I love the man's commitment to creating realistic beauty, if that makes sense. His films are always lovely to watch. His attention to visual detail is so good, you almost forget to care about the polt.

    But then, who can ignore that Klaus Kinski is 32 flavors of scary. Everything about his performance is frightening. It was like he was biting at the air with those sharp teeth, and it really showed how much he thirsted for blood.

    Isabelle Adjani isn't the best actress, but she's so beautiful and her facial expressions are amazing. She's the perfect counterpart for Kinski's ride to Crazy Town.

    Great movie and one that everybody should watch at least a couple of times.

  16. Thanks for reminding me that I need to watch Vampyr! It's been on my list forever and considering it's a rainy vacation Sunday, this might just be the right time.

    And agreed on Herzog's visuals. I still need to bone up on his filmography (I've really only seen Nosferatu, Aguire, and My Son My Son so far) but everything I've seen thus far is just one of a kind when it comes to the look. Same can be said for Kinski in just being...well, unique.

    Thanks for the great comment!