Nosferatu the Vampyre (originally Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night) is a 1979 West German art house vampire film written and directed by Werner Herzog. The film is set primarily in 19th-century Wismar, Germany and Transylvania, and was conceived as a stylistic remake of Nosferatu (1922) It stars Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula, Isabelle Adjani as Lucy Harker, Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Harker, and French artist-writer Roland Topor as Renfield. There are two different versions of the film, one in which the actors speak English, and one in which they speak German.
The film was very well received by critics and enjoyed a comfortable degree of commercial success. The film also marks the second of five collaborations between director Herzog and actor Kinski, immediately followed by Woyzeck (1979). The film had 1,000,000 admissions in Germany and grossed ITL 53,870,000 in Italy. The film was also a modest success in Adjani's home country, taking in 933,533 admissions in France.
Jonathan Harker is an estate agent in Wismar, Germany. His boss, Renfield, informs him that a nobleman named Count Dracula wishes to buy a property in Wismar, and assigns Harker to visit the count and complete the lucrative deal. Leaving his young wife Lucy behind in Wismar, Harker travels for four weeks to Transylvania, to the castle of Count Dracula. He carries with him the deeds and documents needed to sell the house to the Count. On his journey, Jonathan stops at a village, where locals plead for him to stay clear of the accursed castle, providing him with details of Dracula's vampirism. Harker ignores the villagers’ pleas as superstition, and continues his journey unassisted ascending the Borgo Pass. Harker arrives at Dracula's castle, where he meets the Count, a strange, ancient, almost rodent-like man, with large ears, pale skin, sharp teeth, and long fingernails.
The lonely Count is enchanted by a small portrait of Lucy and immediately agrees to purchase the Wismar property, especially with the knowledge that he and Lucy would become neighbors. As Jonathan's visit progresses, he is haunted at night by a number of dream-like encounters with the vampiric Count. Simultaneously, in Wismar, Lucy is tormented by night terrors, plagued by images of impending doom. Additionally, Renfield is committed to an asylum after biting a cow, apparently having gone completely insane. To Harker's horror, he finds the Count asleep in a coffin, confirming for him that Dracula is indeed a vampire. At night, Dracula leaves for Wismar, taking with him a number of coffins, filled with the cursed earth that he needs for his vampiric rest. Harker finds that he is locked in the castle, and attempts to escape through a window with a makeshift rope. The rope, fashioned from bedsheets, is not long enough, and Jonathan falls, severely injuring himself. He awakes on the ground the next morning, stirred by the sound of a young gypsy boy playing a violin. He is eventually sent to a hospital and raves about ‘black coffins’ to doctors, who then assume that the sickness is affecting his mind.
Meanwhile, Dracula and his coffins travel to Wismar by boat, via the Black Sea port of Varna, thence through the Bosphorus and Gibraltar straits and around the entire west European Atlantic coast to the Baltic Sea. He systematically kills the entire crew, making it appear as if they were afflicted with bubonic plague. The ghost ship arrives, with its cargo, at Wismar, where doctors – including Abraham Van Helsing – investigate the strange fate of the ship. They discover a log that mentions their perceived affliction with plague. In turn, Wismar is flooded with rats from the ship. Dracula arrives in Wismar with his coffins, and death spreads rapidly throughout the town. When Jonathan is finally transported home, he is desperately ill, and does not appear to recognize his wife. Lucy later has an encounter with Count Dracula; weary and unable to die, he demands some of the love that she gave so freely to Jonathan, but she refuses, much to Dracula's dismay. Now aware that something other than plague is responsible for the death that has beset her once-peaceful town, Lucy desperately tries to convince the townspeople, but they are skeptical and uninterested. She finds that she can vanquish Dracula's evil by distracting him at dawn, but at the expense of her own life. She lures the Count to her bedroom, where he proceeds to drink her blood.
Lucy's beauty and purity distract Dracula from the call of the rooster, and at the first light of day, he collapses to the floor, dead. Van Helsing arrives to discover Lucy, dead but victorious. He then drives a stake through the heart of the Count to make sure Lucy’s sacrifice was not in vain. In a final, chilling twist, Jonathan Harker awakes from his sickness, now a vampire, and arranges for Van Helsing’s arrest. He is last seen traveling away on horseback, stating enigmatically that he has much to do.
- Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula
- Isabelle Adjani as Lucy Harker
- Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Harker
- Roland Topor as Renfield
- Walter Ladengast as Dr Abraham Van Helsing
- Dan van Husen as Warden
- Jan Groth as Harbormaster
- Carsten Bodinus as Schrader
- Martje Grohmann as Mina
- Rijk de Gooyer as Town official
- Clemens Scheitz as Clerk
- John Leddy as Coachman
- Tim Beekman as Coffin bearer
- Lo van Hensbergen
- Margiet van Hartingsveld
While the basic story is derived from Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, Werner Herzog made the 1979 film primarily as an homage remake of F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922), which differs somewhat from Stoker's original work. Herzog considered it to be the greatest film ever to come out of Germany, and was eager to make his own version of the film, with Klaus Kinski in the leading role. In 1979, by which time the copyright for Dracula had entered the public domain, Herzog proceeded with his updated version of the classic German film, which could now include the original character names.
The film was co-produced by Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, Gaumont Film Company and ZDF. As was common for German films during the 1970s, Nosferatu the Vampyre was filmed on a minimal budget, and with a crew of just 16 people. Herzog could not film in Wismar, where the original Murnau film was shot, so he relocated production to Delft, Netherlands. Parts of the film were shot in nearby Schiedam, after Delft authorities refused to allow Herzog to release 11,000 rats for a scene in the film. Dracula's home is represented by locations in Czechoslovakia.
At the request of distributor 20th Century Fox, Herzog produced two versions of the film simultaneously, to appeal to English-speaking audiences. Scenes with dialogue were filmed twice, in German and in English, meaning that the actor's own voices (as opposed to dubbed dialogue by voice actors) could be included in the English version of the film. Herzog himself said in 2014 that the German version was more "authentic."
The opening sequence of the film was filmed by Herzog himself at the Mummies of Guanajuato museum, Guanajuato, Mexico, where a large number of naturally mummified bodies of the victims of an 1833 cholera epidemic are on public display. Herzog had first seen the Guanajuato mummies while visiting in the 1960s. On his return in the 1970s he took the corpses out of the glass cases in which they are normally stored. To film them, he propped them against a wall, arranging them in a sequence running roughly from childhood to old age.
Kinski's Dracula make-up, with black costume, bald head, rat-like teeth and long fingernails, is an imitation of Max Schreck's makeup in the 1922 original. The makeup artist who worked on Kinski was Japanese artist Reiko Kruk. Although he fought with Herzog and others during the making of other films, Kinski got along with Kruk and the four-hour makeup sessions went on with no outbursts from Kinski himself. A number of shots in the film are faithful recreations of iconic shots from Murnau's original film, some almost perfectly identical to their counterparts, intended as an homage to Murnau.
The film score was composed by the German group Popol Vuh, who have collaborated with Herzog on numerous projects. Music for the film comprises material from the group's album Brüder des Schattens – Söhne des Lichts. Additionally, the film features Richard Wagner's prelude to Das Rheingold, Charles Gounod's Sanctus from Messe solennelle à Sainte Cécil and traditional Georgian folk song "Tsintskaro," sung by Vocal Ensemble Gordela.
Release and Reception Edit
Nosferatu the Vampyre was entered into the 29th Berlin International Film Festival, where production designer Henning von Gierke won the Silver Bear for an outstanding single achievement. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports a 95% "certified fresh" approval critic response based on 42 reviews, and an average score of 7.9/10.
In contemporary reviews, the film is noted for maintaining an element of horror, with numerous deaths and a grim atmosphere, but it features a more expanded plot than many Dracula productions, with a greater emphasis on the vampire's tragic loneliness. Dracula is still a ghastly figure, but with a greater sense of pathos; weary, unloved, and doomed to immortality. Reviewer John J. Puccio of MovieMet considers it a faithful homage to Murnau's original film, significantly updating the original material, and avoiding the danger of being overly derivative.
In 2011, Roger Ebert added the film to his "Great Movies Collection." Concluding his four star review, Ebert said: "One striking quality of the film is its beauty. Herzog's pictorial eye is not often enough credited. His films always upstage it with their themes. We are focused on what happens, and there are few 'beauty shots.' Look here at his control of the color palette, his off-center compositions, of the dramatic counterpoint of light and dark. Here is a film that does honor to the seriousness of vampires. No, I don't believe in them. But if they were real, here is how they must look."