Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht (1979), or What Beautiful Music They Make

31 10 2009

Well, folks, I’ve saved the best for last on this Cinematronica horror movie outing I’ve been tentatively referring to as OH MY GOD! THERE’S A DEAD BODY IN MY DVD PLAYER! SOMEBODY CALL THE POLICE!!! We’ve seen thrillers, slashers, paranormal films, and monster movies. Now we come to Halloween night, and if any of you have decided to sit back, relax, and watch a scary movie with your family and friends, make it this one. This remake of the 1922 German Dracula re-imagining, created by Werner Herzog himself and starring the legendary Klaus Kinski, is one for the books. It’s eerie, it’s creepy, it’s frightening, and it captures all the original feel and flavor of the Murnau original. But it does the original even one better by adding Kinski as Count Orlok, who was the most intense actor of his generation. If you watch this movie tonight, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Okay, basically, the original Nosferatu was a German rip-off of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with really only the names changed to ensure they would not be sued. So it follows, almost to the letter, the events of the Stoker vampire tale. Here, though, the names have all beenĀ  re-replaced, and are now the names from the Bram Stoker tale. An estate agent named Jonathan Harker has made a lucrative deal recently with a man known as Count Dracula who wishes to buy a castle in Wismar. To complete the deal, Harker leaves for Transylvania, Romania to where the Count lives. After being unnerved by a panicky local populace in Transylvania, he goes and has a meeting with the Count, who is a terror to behold. With a thin white body, claw-like hands, long, sharp teeth like a predator’s, and a completely sleek head, he is seemingly not of this earth. But after Harker speaks to him, he comes to feel for this man, who is lonely and very courteous to his guest. After a meeting in which he catches a glimpse of a small portrait of Lucy, Harker’s wife, he instantly agrees to purchase the property. It seems all cut and dry, but Harker begins to have nightmares while he stays there of the Count, and his wife Lucy, back in Wismar, begins to have terrors of her own. Things don’t get any better as Dracula makes his move toward Wismar, as the crew of the ship moving him begins to die off mysteriously, Harker’s employer Renfield, is stricken with a violent madness, and Wismar itself slowly faces the grip of death as Dracula’s arrival becomes a harbinger of a massive shrink in the population. Who can stop this strange menace that seems to emanate from the hand of the inhuman Count? And will it be at the risk of their very soul if they try?

This is such a good remake. Everything that was so mesmerizing about the original is turned up to 11, and even the details Herzog took a liberty with are exceptional. One of my favorite things he changes here is the humanization of Dracula. He’s not some inhuman beast like the 1922 version; here, you get the sense that he despises himself and what he is, and that makes it so much more fulfilling when the blood starts flowing because you almost felt sorry for him. The distant look in his eyes when he speaks of his nature is an emotional highlight in this film. Herzog really reinforces his reputation as one of Germany’s finest directors here.

The cast is excellent. Stupendous, even. With Kinski as the anchor of the film, it’s hard to fail. His silent intensity is absolutely phenomenal. When he speaks, it resonates with the age of centuries, a lifetime comprised of lifetimes, and it is a wonder to be in the presence of the monster. And he is a monster. Because nothing is more heartbreaking than the one who stabs you in the back after you part from a handshake. I feel for Dracula, I really do. He has a sadness, imbued in him by Kinski, that is so palpable that I could see myself weeping for him. But he is, in the end, a villain, and not only because he must be. There’s something in him that wishes death, invites the cry of the fall upon himself. He is a beast, we the prey, and we two were never meant to be so close. I also enjoyed the acting of Isabelle Adjani, who plays the plucky and strong Lucy. The character is a vast improvement over the original, and Adjani is more than apt for the part. Lucy is stronger and more relatable, and she is also a lot smarter than the dumb-as-rocks character in the silent film. I like her involvement a lot, and it can’t be said that she isn’t just absolutely radiant.

But let’s not forget that this is a horror, and I was certainly frightened by more than a few scenes. Every time Kinski is on screen, he has that barely hinged demeanor that makes you feel that all bets are off. Look at the clip above and tell me that every second he and Lucy are alone together is not just torture. Renfield is also a scary bastard. At one point he actually freaks out and bites a cow!!! His eyes are priceless, and it’s a highlight of the film. The score by rock band Popol Vuh adds considerably to the mysterious theme of the film. It feels at times that we fall into this movie, as one falls into the subconscious when slumber comes upon us, and Popol Vuh blurs that line between the dream and the reality very well with their intensive score.

A great remake that needs to be lifted high on the ramparts. It might be the best movie I’ve seen from this Halloween bunch, and I’ve seen some amazing movies. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better vampire movie PERIOD, and if you have any idea just how many of those there are, you know that’s a serious statement. I love it; it’s scary, atmospheric, emotional, and well-made. Kinski and Herzog together made a pairing that defied conventions, but exceeded any expectations, and this, their second film together, is a watershed moment when their cohesiveness peaked in so many ways. I think you’ll like it a lot; I give Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht 10 bitten livestock out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Happy Halloween, everyone! I hope you enjoyed my little movie marathon! Tomorrow it’s back to brass tacks with a movie that I think everyone can relate to; Songs From the Second Floor! Until then!!!

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2 responses

1 11 2009
Jenni David

man you make me want to watch this right now!!! That scene above was fantastic I was already hooked…plus my favorite language is German!!!

1 11 2009
Alex

Ditto the previous comment. I really enjoyed reading your review! I’ve only seen the original Nosferatu and I didn’t know much about the remake. I’m glad to hear that the female lead was re-written, because dang if she isn’t annoying as hell in the first one. I’ll be sure to check this out soon, thanks to your glowing recommendation!

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