Nosferatu the Vampyre (Werner Herzog / West Germany-France, 1979):
(Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht)

Assuming the mantle of Murnau is a perilous journey even for Werner Herzog, "it takes sweat, and maybe a little blood," Renfield giggles. Grimacing fossils and a giant bat dive-bombing in slow-motion start things off, a bit of documentary and artifice to go with our first glimpse of Isabelle Adjani’s chalky, fiercely gestural Lucy. Her warnings of "a dark force, a nameless deadly fear" can’t dissuade Jonathan (Bruno Ganz) from traveling to Transylvania, and neither can the gypsy tavern that freezes at the mention of Dracula. The Count (Klaus Kinski at his most ineffable) is a gnarled mandarin tortured by mortality ("Time is an abyss, profound as a thousand nights...") but with a tender yen for jugulars and cuckoo clocks. Herzog may recreate many of the original’s setups -- the high-angled views of Dracula loading his caskets into the carriage, the fiend’s sideways scuttle on the frigate’s deck -- yet his vampire is less a destructive force than a transformative one. Mist creeps and Wagner swells dutifully over grand landscapes, though the "enlightened century" doesn’t get color in its cheeks until Dracula and his rodent minions pull into the harbor and sully the storybook town. Uncanny images, droll images: The fallen Jonathan roused by a barefoot young fiddler, a panning crowd shot that catches a little girl sneezing twice, Dracula pushing away his fervent lapdog (Roland Topor) with fine, Mr. Burns disdain. Herzog tears down as much as he revives in this beguiling incantation of silent cinema, nothing here is as joyous as the handheld camera skipping in tandem with pestilent revelers amid the ruins (Faust). "We shall study this matter scientifically," says Van Helsing (Walter Ladengast), the rationalist who finishes off the bloodsucking visionary and is arrested for his trouble. The old monster is honored, new potential gallops away with the clod who’s finally found his fangs. Cinematography by Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein. Music by Popol Vuh. With Dan van Husen, Jan Groth, Carsten Bodinus, and Clemens Scheitz.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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