Dracula has rarely been as inhumanly pitiful—and as mesmerizingly creepy—as in Nosferatu The Vampyre, Werner Herzog’s stylized remake of F.W. Murnau’s seminal 1922 Nosferatu. Shot in both English and German-language versions (the latter proving far superior), the film marked Herzog’s second of five collaborations with Klaus Kinski, who brings a feral strangeness to the character of Count Dracula, here envisioned as a pale, rat-like other. As per tradition, Kinski’s Count invites real estate agent Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) to his Transylvanian castle, where he imprisons the man and then sets out to Germany, where his newly purchased property will put him in close proximity to Harker’s wife, Lucy (Isabelle Adjani), whose love Dracula covets with a hunger almost equal to his thirst for blood.
In terms of narrative detail, Herzog’s film is generally faithful to its filmic source material (which itself differed somewhat from Bram Stoker’s novel). Yet the mood in which he encases his action is hauntingly distinctive, full of long stretches of quiet and prolonged scenes of minimal movement and heightened acting that, together, create an atmosphere of dreamlike unreality. Channeling Murnau’s expressionistic silent visuals, Herzog’s Nosferatu is a thing of manicured beauty that derives much of its terror from the sense that its characters are all trapped in a waking nightmare from which they cannot escape. Even more evocative, however, is Kinski’s portrayal of the legendary vampire, whom he reimagines as a figure of tragic alienation and self-loathing, forced to spend eternity as an outcast with no possibility of companionship or love. With quiet, seething intensity, Kinski turns Dracula into a simultaneously sinister and sympathetic creature—one whose viciousness curdles the blood, even as his fanged ferocity comes across as merely a wounded-animal reaction to his eternal loneliness.
Availability: Nosferatu The Vampyre is available on Blu-ray and DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix or your local video store/library, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.