Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Nosferatu, 1979

Werner Herzog's 1979 version of the silent classic NOSFERATU is visually (and aurally) impressive and still has the power to unsettle, with Euro-favourites Bruno Ganz and Isabelle Adjani pitted against the vampire of Klaus Kinski - a dead ringer for Max Schreck in the 1922 silent Murnau classic - as the pitiful vampire bringing death and plague in his wake ...
Jonathan Harker is sent away to Count Dracula's castle to sell him a house in Varna, where Jonathan lives. But Count Dracula is a vampire, an undead ghoul living off of men's blood. Inspired by a photograph of Lucy Harker, Jonathan's wife, Dracula moves to Varna, bringing with him death and plague... An unusually contemplative version of Dracula, in which the vampire bears the curse of not being able to get old and die. 

Like Coppola's version in 1992 the visuals keep one mesmerised - starting with those close-ups of mummified bodies, then Harker's journey through that desolate countryside and mountains to that grim castle to meet the cadaverous Count. We have "The children of the night make their music" as the wolves howl, and that comment of the undead Count: "Time is an abyss... profound as a thousand nights... Centuries come and go... To be unable to grow old is terrible... Death is not the worst... Can you imagine enduring centuries, experiencing each day the same futilities..."
Ganz is effective as Harker, but Adjani, usually so magnetic, plays Lucy as though she is in a coma but presumably that pallid Victorian heroine what Herzog wanted. Kinski certainly conveys the loneliness and sadness of the vampire who longs to be human. Its certainly effective as that ghost ship arrives in at the port, bringing rats and plague, as the Count has killed off the crew, and the city succumbs to plague mania  ..... will Jonathan get to save Lucy in time? The ending is not what one expects, as Lucy keeps Nosferatu with her till dawn - but then a new vamprie arises to take his place. Maybe Herzog's most effective film since AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD? For another OTT Kinski performance see 1981's snake-on-the-loose thriller VENOM (Horror label), he is also good as the slum landlord in 1965's THE PLEASURE GIRLS (London label)
Herzog's NOSFERATU is one of the centrepieces of the current BFI 3-month "Gothic" season, with an extended run of 46 screenings in London, as does Clayton's brilliant THE INNOCENTS (also reviewed at Horror, Deborah Kerr labels).

I read Bram Stoker's novel when I was 17 and it was profoundly scary, most of the vampire movies have been fun - I particuarly like ther 1960 Hammer BRIDES OF DRACULA (Horror label) and the effectively chiller DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS with Christopher Lee and Barbara Shelley is maybe the best of the other Hammer Draculas, apart from Polanski's deliciously comic DANCEOF THE VAMPIRES or THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS - also at Horror label.

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