One of the best-ever Dracula adaptations, Werner Herzog's vampire masterpiece may have been shot in 1979, but every frame feels utterly out-of-time, as if trapped in a previous century. Ostensibly a remake of F.W. Murnau's silent 1922 classic of the same name, Herzog remains largely faithful to Stoker's novel, while stripping down the plot to the basics, allowing imagery and atmosphere to tell his story.
So Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) is dispatched by the hunchbacked, cackling estate agent Renfield (Roland Toper) across the Carpathian mountains to the starkly beautiful Transylvania where he must seek out Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski) and secure his signature for the castle he is selling. Despite the hindrances — his beloved Lucy's feeling of impending doom, warnings from the gypsies of the region and a distinct lack of transport, Harker finds Dracula's castle and gets the signature he requires. But the cost is high — the Count feasts on Harker's blood and leaves him stranded in the mountains while he heads to civilisation in a coffin, in search of Lucy and fresh victims.
Nosferatu is perfectly cast — Ganz is a stoic, determined lover, Isabelle Adjani the ethereal beauty whose psycho-sexual link with Dracula leads her to make an ultimate, tragic sacrifice. And Kinski delivers maybe his finest performance — gone is the creepy charmer that Lugosi and Lee brought to the screen; this Dracula is a pathetic, sickening old man who can only strike when his victims are at their most vulnerable. And the rats... the Count's journey from Transylvania is accompanied by thousands of filthy rodents that set about infecting the town with the plague. Herzog creates some of the film's most memorable imagery here, as coffins are piled up in the market square, and the infected sit amongst the swarming rats, waiting to die.
Herzog shot the film simultaneously in English and German, the latter version running some 12 minutes longer. Both are included on Anchor Bay's DVD release, but to be honest this isn't a film about words; much of the dialogue is stagey and exaggerated. It's the visuals you take away with you — the slow-motion bat that descends on Lucy's window, the darkening sky over the savage crags that surround the Count's lair, the astonishing scene in which Dracula approaches Lucy as she gazes into a mirror, the vampire only registering in the glass as a shadow until the moment his wizened hand reaches out to touch her. There's virtually no blood and only the barest hint of sex, but Herzog's film remains an intoxicating Gothic stew, immaculately constructed and quietly terrifying.
Aka: Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht
[The BFI have released this and Aguirre as a steelbook Blu-ray and DVD. The BFI’s DVD and Blu-ray releases carry the highest quality film presentations and are packaged with contextualising extra features and fully illustrated booklets, providing the very best way to experience the wealth of content on offer.]
Eccentric German writer/director known equally for his brilliant visionary style and tortuous filming techniques. After several years struggling financially to launch himself as a filmmaker, Herzog began his career with the wartime drama Lebenszeichen and surreal comedy Even Dwarfs Started Small. But it was the stunning 1972 jungle adventure Aguirre, Wrath of God that brought him international acclaim and began his tempestuous working relationship with Klaus Kinski. The 1975 period fable Heart of Glass featured an almost entirely hypnotised cast, while other Herzog classics from this era include Stroszek, the gothic horror Nosferatu the Vampyre and the spectacular, notoriously expensive epic Fitzcarraldo.