In 1979, prolific German filmmaker Werner Herzog gave us his own re-imagining of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, which may arguably be one of his finest cinematic works. An evocative exercise in alienation and existential dread, Herzog masterfully tackles one of the greatest gothic stories ever with Nosferatu the Vampyre with the unforgettable (as always) Klaus Kinski as the titular blood-sucker.
While Herzog’s efforts draw a lot of inspiration from the original Nosferatu, he also smartly uses Bram Stoker’s original novel for his retelling in addition to his own wonderfully atmospheric storytelling sensibilities. Nosferatu the Vampyre starts off with the standard story set-up of Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) being sent to the castle of Count Dracula (Kinski) in order to have him sign off on a land purchase in person. Harker hesitantly agrees to the dangerous trip, fueled by his desire to purchase a home for his beloved wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) and start their life together. That plan is quickly halted, though, once the Count decides to sink his fangs into Harker, leaving it up to his determined spouse to find a way to stop Count Dracula from continuing to spread his demonic influences over everyone he comes in contact with.
Truly a product of its time, Nosferatu the Vampyre is far more contemplative than Murnau’s original chiller, with Herzog exploring the themes of death and isolation that were prevalent during that era in genre cinema, especially foreign horror. Herzog does a fantastic job of building a palpable tension throughout Nosferatu the Vampyre, even before we’re ever introduced to Kinski’s creature, with a sense of foreboding dread looming heavily over Harker’s travels at the start of the movie. Herzog also often has his actors either looking away or moving away from the camera, allowing the broad, wide open shots to establish just how minute these human characters really are once they enter the Count’s dangerous world.
Herzog, being the master that he is, does an incredible presentation of the duality of human (and in-human) nature throughout Nosferatu the Vampyre, often juxtaposing stunning shots of natural beauty against various grotesque and horrific moments of nature gone wrong. The scenes featuring hordes of rats infesting a small village and boat upon Count Dracula’s arrival were particularly disturbing. There’s also a particularly stomach-churning moment featuring a grandiose dinner scene with several members of high society enjoying a lavish meal while hundreds upon hundreds of rats are scurrying at their feet. It’s powerful and startling stuff from Herzog.
There’s no doubt that Nosferatu the Vampyre is a vehicle for Kinski and his boundless talents are fully on display here. His ability to immerse himself inside the timeless character of Count Dracula, all while bringing his own special brand of physicality to the role while under heavy prosthetics, is astonishing to watch. Ganz, as Harker, carries most of the screen time in Nosferatu the Vampyre, which would seem like a daunting task acting alongside a talent like Kinski, but he rises to the occasion time and time again with his haunting portrayal of a man filled with sadness and confusion as he comes to terms with what the Count has done to him and what that means for his relationship with his dearest Lucy.
Shout Factory’s high definition presentation of Nosferatu the Vampyre is often breathtaking, with many of the scenes and images feeling vibrant and striking even after the passing of 35 years. That being said, there are some issues with the image quality during many of the darker scenes with a ton of grain coming to the forefront of the footage, making for a noisy picture presentation every now and again. Really though, it’s nothing that should deter fans from picking up Shout’s Blu-ray release of Nosferatu the Vampyre- the overall quality is really fantastic and the disc is also packed with several goodies, including a commentary track with Herzog, the German language version of the film, and a neat behind the scenes featurette, as well as the usual photo gallery and a few trailers to keep fans busy too.
A thoughtfully nuanced exploration of morbidity, the cruelty of nature and romantic obsession, Nosferatu the Vampyre is one of the greatest cinematic journeys that we’ve ever taken with Count Dracula and easily stands toe-to-toe with Murnau’s iconic original 1922 film. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray is clearly a no-brainer for fans of Herzog’s take on the vampire mythos and would be a welcome addition to any uninitiated horror fan’s home collection as well. Remarkably well-made and truly unforgettable, Nosferatu the Vampyre is quite possibly one of Herzog’s greatest films ever (top five at the very least).
Movie Score: 4/5, Disc Score: 3.5/5