Sunday, October 17, 2010

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)

It's easy to get cynical these days. About banks, and also celebrity couples and especially remakes (thanks, Rob Zombie and Sherri Moon Zombie!). But how many times has Shakespeare been performed? If they'd stopped after the classic Olivia Hussey ROMEO AND JULIET, we would have been robbed of the Clair Danes version. We all wish that remakers would focus on material that is promising, yet flawed in its original incarnation. But. Sometimes, even a great work works well with a little remodeling. This is a review of NOSFERATU.
Not the silent version, which I haven't seen in forever and a day, so keep your comparison expectations limited. This is the '79 Werner Herzog version with Klaus Kinski. It's tough to imagine that a modern remake could surpass a German expressionist film in arcane atmosphere. But this IS a Herzog film and it IS a pressurized bag of weird. You all know the Dracula story, I should hope, so there won't be too many surprises. But certain choices that are made do give the viewer pause. NOSFERATU never hides the fact that Count Dracula is a monster, for one thing. Even upon Jonathan Harker's arrival, Kinski's Count is the very vision of a pasty rat-thing, although the rather dull Harker hardly seems to note it. The Lucy here is far feistier than previous lady protags, as well, and offers some very defiant, almost Nietzschean dialog for a movie in which crucifixes repel evil ("nothing in this world, not even God" can change her love for Jonathan).
Herzog is notoriously good at composing visuals, panning over gigantic landscapes and honing in with gorgeous close-ups. NOSFERATU doesn't buck the trend and there are some stunning images here. One interesting thing among many is the way in which this film, though a talkie, is reminiscent of silent movies. Not only in the somewhat elaborate acting and in the direct homages to some famous Murnau NOSFERATU scenes (especially the end), but in the placement of dialog and action. Actors say obvious, title-card things like, "Lucy is in danger! I must save her!", then start walking out of the frame to save her.
Acting is solid, with Kinski turning in a typically great performance and Isabelle Adjani delivering perhaps the definitive Lucy Harker. Also memorable is Roland Topor as a Renfield who seems possessed by a giggly, laughing-gassed Peter Lorre. There's a lot to love in NOSFERATU. NOSFERATU fever—catch it!
#18 of 31.

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