In the Shadow of Vampyres :'Nosferatu the Vampyre' Review
Nosferatu the Vampyre follows the story we all know and love: Jonathan Harker is a estate agent who travels to Transylvania to sell a property there to Count Dracula. If the name doesn’t give you a hint of what’s to come, then I don’t know what will. Remakes can be tricky because it’s rare that something new can be brought to the table without appearing exploitative of the original property. Thankfully, Nosferatu the Vampyre avoids this. Herzog has plenty to bring to the story, most of all, a sense of humanity and filmic poetry, which is saying a lot since the original Murnau film was already a thing of gothic beauty.
The movie never attempts to copy the memorable images present in the 1922 film, instead, it’s far more interested in creating its own. Herzog creates a haunting atmosphere with the combination of production design, location shooting and the score by Popul Vuh. He allows a certain lyricism to permeate the film. In a lot of ways, this might be the most visually poetic horror film I’ve ever watched. Now the question is: Is it actually scary? Nosferatu the Vampyre is uninterested in cheap scares. Instead, it creates a foreboding atmosphere that never abandons the film. When it’s not being scary, it opts to be sad, looking at the figure of Dracula as a tragic one.
This wouldn’t be possible if the performances weren’t so good, but they are. Bruno Ganz is solid as Jonathan Harker, while Isabelle Adjani does good as Lucky Harker. She doesn’t get to do a whole lot, but rises (no pun intended) to the occasion, sharing with us the terror her character is going through. But of course, the stand-out is Klaus Kinski as the titular vampire. He becomes fully absorbed in the role, thanks a great deal to the make-up work by artist Reiko Kruk. Hands down, it’s some of the best film make-up work I’ve seen. It’s the only part of the movie where Herzog opts to pay homage to the original film, by fully imitating it. But even in that regard, it still stands on its own.
The movie’s biggest flaw could be narrative. As said before, this movie isn’t concerned with in-your-face horrors. Instead, it seems to have a fascination with Dracula as a destructive figure. We watch as he affects the Harkers, even if only from a distance, while he himself struggles with his own mortality. The plot is more situational than anything, showing the characters dealing with this vampire and the effects it brings into their lives. It’s a story of transformation and influence, about people going against an uncontrollable and complex evil.
I have to admit that in writing this review and thinking about the film, I have come to like it more. There are images and moments that I’m sure will be burned in my brain, alongside the images of the original. It’s not a substitute for the 1922 film, but it’s not intended to be. Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre is a beautiful horror film in its own right.