Nosferatu the Vampyre

3 out of 5

Directed by: Werner Herzog

Given how much of Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu is made in tribute to – or occasionally slavishly recreating – F.W. Murnau’s classic, silent Nosferatu, your take on it might be influenced by your take on the original; I also think it’s hard to assess the film without the comparison of the source, as some of its structural oddities – which do align with Herzog’s both lyrical and blunt style, but also remain very true to the tone of Murnau’ film – perhaps owe to the nature of the project. 

But then there’s also the interesting expansions / additions Herzog made, which aren’t where you’d probably most assume, in redoing the film as a talky: Herzog twists the tone slightly from one that’s intended to invoke fear to something much more morose. Its juxtapositions are a bit more extreme – the color does allow Murnau’s striking visuals to be embellished even moreso – pairing sensuality with fear; the status quo ignorance / indulgences of the populace in face of the deaths and plague that Dracula brings; making the frail maiden more directly the heroine; and Herzog, in general, allows the film to breathe slightly more, and to be a bit artier. 

But these impulses – remake and recontextualization – don’t feel like they always combine smoothly. It’s too clear when we’re pausing for a Murnau moment, and the transition between the two approaches seems to lead to some jarring edits which run contrary to how beautiful and stunning most shots are, and how smartly the movie was brought into the modern age, using Popol Vuh’s tasteful, haunting score to mimic the original’s orchestral accompaniment, but with the ambience cranked up to match Herzog’s contemplative style. 

Kinski is entrancing; Isabelle Adjani is haunting; the sets – while sometimes having slightly anachronistic hints – are nonetheless part of the complete frames Herzog creates. 

Does it stand on its own? I’m not sure. It’s an oddity, either way, but either way, it’s also quite an absorbing view.