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Author Topic: Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)  (Read 1912 times)
akiratubo
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« on: January 08, 2009, 09:25:35 PM »

Werner Herzog's remake of F.W. Murnau's vampire classic falls short of classic status itself.  I reckon it somewhat weaker than the 1922 original, mostly due to the way Herzog and Klaus Kinski saw fit to handle Count Dracula.  Max Shreck as Count Orlock seemed more frightening and menacing in the orginal, as compared to Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula in the remake.

For a good deal of its running time, though, Nosferatu the Vampyre seemed poised to be the best vampire movie I'd ever seen, if not the best horror movie period.  The opening credits are the creepiest I've ever seen, played over a montage of dried-out human husks, posed and mounted in a gruesome display.  Jonathan Harker's trek through the Transylvanian countryside to reach Dracula's castle is eerie in the extreme.  For the life of me, I can't figure out how the effects of clutching hands and leering faces in the fog scenes were accomplished.  And when Dracula himself is revealed, he's an extremely alarming sight.

Unfortunately, the movie gets progressively weaker from there 'til the end.  Kinski plays Dracula as kind of a sad sack, a lonely old man.  Contrast this with the 1922 version, where Shreck played his Count Orlock as a straight up monster.  Kinski comes dangerously close to the self-pitying vampires of the Anne Rice flavor when he starts talking about his life, eternal but without love.

Nosferatu the Vampyre is also far too clean.  Even when the city of Wismar has been overrun by plague-bearing rats, when rotting horses lie in the streets, when pigs walk through the town square s**tting, it's just too clean.  Everything has a strange sort of beauty about it.  When an undead ghoul shows up and brings the plauge with him, things ought to be pretty far from beautiful!  This is another point in the 1922 film's favor.  Even if it was just a side effect of the grainy film stock available at the time, things in the silent version looked downright pestilent.

Even so, all that is mostly a matter of taste.  Someone else might look at Kinski's performance and reckon it powerful, and at Herzog's visual style and reckon it horrifying.  But I can't imagine anyone forgiving Werner Herzog for ending the movie with a scene about two Komic Relief Kops!  It's enough to kill the movie dead.  Hell, it's enough to call Werner Herzog's entire career into question.  I wanted to send my foot through time and space to intercept Werner Herzog's ass for including that scene.  It's that bad.

Maybe I'm being too hard on this movie, because I don't know if it was complete.  It sure seems like parts were missing.  For example, Janathan Harker finds Dracula lying in his coffin during the day.  One jump cut later, Dracula is preparing his coffins for the trip to Wismar to vampirize Lucy.  Surely there should have been a scene or two between those two events.  Every review I've read talks of a scene where Lucy Harker visits Renfield in the sanitarium.  That didn't happen that I saw.  The voyage of the ship carrying Dracula and his rats to Wismar seems very fragmented.  Once Dracula is in Wismar, events jump around so much I had trouble following what was happening.  Maybe there's a more complete cut of this movie out there that improves things.

Despite my problems with it, Nosferatu the Vampyre is a good movie.  For the first forty minutes or so, it's a very, very good movie.  However ...

(((SPOILERS)))

































At the end, Jonathan Harker has apparently become a full vampire, or very near to it.  Sunlight weakens him, but does not turn him into an ordinary corpse, as it did with Dracula.  He declares that he has much to do and then goes riding his horse across some dirt plain, somewhere.  Presumably, he's riding off to Castle Dracula to take up Dracula's mantle.  Or is he?  Is he actually riding out during the day hoping the sun will kill him and spare him from becoming undead?  Is he somehow more powerful than Dracula, as indicated by his resistance to the sun?  Is he just out riding for the hell of it?  I really don't know, and on top of the Komedy Relief Kops in the previous scene, this ending just about kills Nosferatu the Vampyre dead.  Rarely have I seen a movie that starts so well finish so bad.
« Last Edit: January 08, 2009, 09:27:24 PM by akiratubo » Logged

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peter johnson
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« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2009, 03:27:23 PM »

I own the Criterion VHS version of this, and do not recall any Keystone Kops.

I probably have to watch it again -- While I am in awe of Herzog as a film-maker and a person, he is far from flawless.  I think it might be the way he flirts with flawlessness in things like the opening sequence to Aguirre, The Wrath of God, that bugs people when they see what he's capable of & then includes mediocre scenes along with transcendent ones.  Sort of like life . . .

I think the ending of the film is very much that Harker is now the emissary of Nosferatu as well as the carrier of the Plague, both bubonic and vampiric.  Contrast that to Murnau's ending wherein Nosferatu is completely defeated.  He is not riding across a plain, but rather the low-tide of the beach up near Kiel, where this was filmed in Germany.  The implication is that he is on his way to spread the "good news" to other German seacoast villages.  This goes back to Stoker's original view of Dracula as a pestilence that had to leave his Carpathian home as he was too well-known and contained there -- now he can spread like a virus among those with no antibodies to resist him.

I don't recall the editing bothering me either.  Again, I probably have to see it again to see what you mean.

What I do recall liking very much was how Kinski dies at the end.  Rather than disappearing in sunlight, he sort of spasmically jerks to the floor like a sack of excrement.  Knowing Kinski, he probably really did slam his head against the wall on the way down.

I can't watch this too often, as it creeps my wife out, but it makes me wish Herzog would revisit the classic horror genre again.  Can you imagine a Herzog-envisioned werewolf or zombie picture ? . . .

peter johnson/denny crane
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lester1/2jr
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« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2009, 03:33:25 PM »

I haven't seen this but I have the soundtrack by popul vuh.  there is on riff they play over and over that is MIGHTY
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akiratubo
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« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2009, 02:44:23 AM »

I own the Criterion VHS version of this, and do not recall any Keystone Kops.

They're not really cops, they're two guys who've decided they're going to act as police since all the real ones are dead of the plague.  They have a "humorous" argument about how they can be empowered to arrest Van Helsing since the entire town government is dead, or where they're even going to put him.  They serve the same basic function as Komic Relief Kops.
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Neville
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« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2009, 02:47:02 PM »

I've only seen it once, a few years ago, and found it sort of a mixed bag, like Akiratubo just did. But it has so much great things in it too that I can't say a single bad think about it. Somehow I've forgotten the mishaps and I only remember some visuals and how awesome that Popo Mol muisc was. As with "Aguirre", it makes the film much more powerful.

As for the dead in the opening, I remember cringing. To this day I'm pretty sure they're real, as some European cripts are open to tourists. My sister visited one while studying in Italy, said it was the creepiest thing she had ever seen.
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peter johnson
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« Reply #5 on: January 12, 2009, 03:17:08 PM »

Oh, no doubt the opening sequence is real corpses -- I suspect shot in Spain.  Yes, you can visit many charnel-houses & crypts all over Europe.  The ones in damper climates tend to be all bone, but the ones in the dryer Mediterranean areas exhibit some mummification.
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Neville
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« Reply #6 on: January 12, 2009, 05:05:06 PM »

Just looked it up in the IMDB. It says the footage of the mummies was shot at Guanajuato, Mexico.

All I can say is... sick!!!!!  Buggedout
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akiratubo
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« Reply #7 on: January 12, 2009, 06:21:06 PM »

I also checked the IMDB.  The cut of the movie I have is approximately 95 minutes.  The IMDB lists a running time of 107 minutes.  I want to see the longer version.
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akiratubo
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« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2009, 05:31:07 PM »

Well, turns out the "international" cut is on side B of the disc I already have.   Lookingup

The extra twelve minutes are mostly scenes of Renfield.  Several are in the sanitarium (including his visit from Lucy) and there's one with Dracula in which Dracula instructs him to take some of the plague-bearing rats and spread the plague to another city.

At least a couple of scenes were also extended, compared to the 95-minute cut.  The scene in which Harker finds Dracula's coffin, for example.  In the shorter cut, Harker finds Dracula's coffin and pushes the lid aside to reveal him sleeping, then it instantly jump-cuts to another scene.  In the longer cut, Harker is horrified when he sees Dracula in the coffin and runs away from the crypt to hide in his room.  There's also a scene of Lucy finding one of Dracula's coffins and crumbling some communion wafers into it so that he can't use it.  In the short cut, she just found the coffin and it suddenly went to another scene.

...

The second time through, I appreciated the movie more.  The extra footage helped.  I still don't know why Herzog didn't recreate some of the most powerful scenes of the original, such as Orlock/Dracula rising from his coffin on the ship, or the door to the ruined mansion in Wismar swinging open in front of Orlock/Dracula.

I also partially revised my opinion of the Herzog/Kinski Dracula.  Yes, Dracula feels sorry for himself and I could do without that, but what he says on the subject makes sense.  Maybe it's even all a load of crap.  Being lonely sure doesn't stop him from killing everyone in Wismar!  At no point is Dracula anything less than a monster -- a formidable monster indeed.  He single-handedly wipes out Wismar, effortlessly.  His defeat isn't even certain.  Yes, the sun strikes him, but for all we know it just reverted him into a regular corpse and he'll get right back up when the sun goes down.  Yes, he gets staked, but van Helsing doesn't leave the stake in, or use it to pin Dracula to the ground.  How can we be certain the vampire was really killed?
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Pilgermann
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« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2009, 02:35:42 AM »

That's an interesting observation on Dracula's fate, but it's at least safe to assume he was destroyed, though Harker carries on the plague and whatnot.

This is a film I love, and for some reason every time that I've watched it has been fairly late at night when I'm kind of tired.  It's such a calm and slow film that I nearly nod off at times.  After it's over I feel like I've had some strange dream, and I like that feeling.
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