This is my second time viewing Werner Herzog's remake of the great silent German vampire movie Nosferatu. the first time was decades ago on an old VHS tape checked out from the local library and viewed on a small tube TV: it was dark, fuzzy, muddled and a complete bore. I hated it. Now, watching Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (a.k.a. Nosferatu the Vampyre) in beautiful HD on a big TV, I finally see how gorgeous it is, and the amazing stylized performances from Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani really come to life. But it's still pretty boring some of the time.
Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre is a combined adaptation of F. W. Murnau's 1922 film and its source material, Bram Stoker's Dracula, taking bits from each — including several painstakingly recreated iconic moments from Murnau's masterpiece. the adverb "painstakingly" could be applied to many facets of Herzog's Nosferatu, as the director's style is often to let scenes linger painstakingly past the point when most film crews would have wrapped for the day and gone home.
Herzog tinkers a bit with Stoker's narrative in interesting ways — Van Helsing, for example, is senile and useless, forcing Lucy Harker (not Mina, their roles are reversed) to take matters into her own hands — including a twist in the ending that not only sucks the power out of Herzog's half-hearted recreation of Murnau's famous climax, but which was also pretty trite story-wise. But Herzog is not usually that interested in story, anyway, and in this well-known tale, probably less than usual. Nosferatu the Vampyre is part tone poem, part homage, and a meditation on sexual longing more than it is a vampire story.
I came away from Nosferatu the Vampyre this time loving about half of it, particularly the two lead performances which somehow perfectly meld the stylized pantomime of the silent era with the grotty German new wave of the 1970s. Herzog's movie simply oozes atmosphere, and he informs many scenes with his deep love of cinema — more so than the few others of his that I've watched. But this frustrating director will also include scenes in which he appeared to have no interest, or long segments that seem to have gone untouched since the assembly cut. That Nosferatu the Vampyre is maybe my favorite Herzog so far shows how highly I think of its good parts, but it can be a real drag to sit through at times.
Also starring Bruno Ganz.