#15 - 7 votes
Werner Herzog's 1979 remake of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, titled Nosferatu the Vampyre in the U.S. and Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht in Europe, is one of the handful of remakes I prefer to the original. Measuring a silent film against a movie made five decades later is unfair, and Murnau's original is a great film that remains creepily effective nearly a century later. But while Herzog intended to honor Murnau and his film with his own, recreating iconic images from the original, his Nosferatu stands on its own as a uniquely poetic and haunting experience.
Klaus Kinski's performance as the cursed Count Dracula - unlike Murnau's film, Herzog was free to use the character names from Bram Stoker's novel - is my favorite of his and Herzog's legendary five-film collaboration. His Dracula is neither as purely monstrous as Max Schreck's Count Orlok nor the tragic, sexy version played by Frank Langella in the big-budget production of Dracula that was also released in 1979. Kinski's count is truly alien, an otherworldly presence that inspires our pity if not empathy. In his scenes with the perfectly cast Isabella Adjani - the movie would be the ideal center of an Adjani triple feature bookended by The Story of Adele H. and Possession - Kinski is less menacing than chilling, as Herzog is less interested in the romantic readings of the story than in what would be the pitiful reality of a vampire's existence.
Like the ghoul in Fuseli's The Nightmare, the vampire bound to destroy any object of his affections and literally bring death wherever he goes. As in Murnau's version, Dracula spreads a literal plague, which gives Herzog the opportunity to stage an eerily silent apocalypse that ends on a more unsettling note than the original. Along with the movie's hallucinatory images of bats filmed in slow motion, real, rotting mummies and other characteristically Herzogian images of nature as threatening and ominous, Nosferatu is subtly but thoroughly frightening. Herzog isn't interested in big scares, and I know this one makes some horror fans sleepy, but viewed in the right frame of mind, Nosferatu is quite freaky in its own peculiar way.
U.S. Release Date: October 5, 1979 (Also released that week: 10, Starting Over)