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Stylistically Faithful Remake of Murnau's Masterpiece.
on December 9, 2004
"Nosferatu the Vampyre" is director Werner Herzog's tribute to F. W. Murnau, whom he considers to be Germany's greatest filmmaker, as well as a haunting gothic horror tale in its own right. It is a remake of Murnau's 1922 film "Nosferatu", which is the earliest surviving cinematic adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula". Herzog has combined ideas from Murnau's film, Bram Stoker's novel, and his own imagination in creating a film that is, if anything, even more expressionistic and romanticist than the 1922 masterpiece. It is also more languid and pathetic than other "Dracula" adaptations.
This version of the Dracula tale, like 1922's "Nosferatu", takes place in Germany and Transylvania. Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) is a real estate agent employed by a madman named Renfield (Roland Topor) to deliver a contract to Count Dracula in Transylvania, who wishes to purchase property in Wismar, Germany. When he reaches his destination, Jonathan finds a hideous, predatory Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski) eager to sign the deed to his new home. Several days later, ill and traumatized by horrors that he experienced at Dracula's castle, Jonathan understands that his young wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) will be in grave danger if Dracula reaches Wismar and sets out to save her. Count Dracula's arrival in Wismar coincides with the Plague. The city is overrun with rats and its population decimated by disease. Only Lucy comprehends the nature of the evil that has befallen the city and understands what she must do to stop it.
"Nosferatu the Vampyre" adheres pretty closely to Murnau's storyline, rather than Stoker's, except for the ending. The characters and actions have been embellished, however, sometimes with inspiration from the "Dracula" novel. Herzog's film moves slowly but steadily and spends more time with the characters than any previous "Dracula" adaptation. Count Dracula closely resembles Murnau's vampire but is even more grotesque and the least aristocratic of any cinematic Dracula. He is rodent-like and closely associated with rats and the Plague. But he departs from other Dracula interpretations in lamenting his permanent un-dead existence without light or love for centuries, which makes him a slightly tragic character. Although Count Dracula is the force that drives the narrative, the first half of the film is about Jonathan, and the second half concentrates on Lucy. Lucy Harker takes much inspiration from the character of Mina Harker in the novel "Dracula". The film's Lucy is more mystical and less methodical than the book's Mina. But, like Mina, she is stronger and smarter than the characters who surround her, and she tries her best to save everyone in spite of their blindness. Isabelle Adjani's Lucy Harker is the strongest heroine of any "Dracula" film.
Like Murnau's 1922 film, "Nosferatu the Vampyre" is visually expressionistic and romanticist. More of the film takes place outdoors than in other adaptations. There are lots of wide open spaces which are brightly lit, lending the outdoor scenes an airy feel, while scenes indoors tend to be dark and oppressive. This is clearly taken from the Murnau film, with its seaside scenes and bright sunshine. But the color cinematography and superior technology creates a sense of space that Murnau's film doesn't have. Colored lighting is lifted directly from Murnau's film, however. 1922's "Nosferatu" was filmed in black-and-white and tinted several colors to communicate time and mood. "Nosferatu the Vampyre"'s night scenes are bathed in blue light, and the inside of Dracula's castle is close to sepia, producing much the same effects as Murnau's toning.
English and German versions of "Nosferatu the Vampyre" were filmed concurrently. Werner Herzog shot the scenes with dialogue twice -once in German, once in English. The two versions differ by only seconds in length, but they are edited slightly differently. Whichever one you see, "Nosferatu the Vampyre" is one of the most interesting adaptations of Bram Stoker's "Dracula", even if it is an indirect adaptation. It is also the slowest paced and highly expressionistic, which somewhat narrow its appeal.