Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Werner Herzog's take on the Dracula story is a strange and stiff affair, with the useless Isabelle Adjani in a pivotal role (the girl's got all the range of a porcelain doll). So why do I find it so effective? The exquisite photography certainly helps (there's a couple shots where Klaus Kinski, as Nosferatu, is framed so that his white head is surrounded by blackness, giving it the appearance of disembodiment, that I thought stunning). Really, though, I think the stiffness is an asset rather than a debit. It gives the film an dank, eerie quality that eludes most other tellings of this tale. Kinski's melancholy rendition of the Count points the way towards the film as a whole (there's no romanticism in living forever). More interestingly, if you pay attention to people in the background, none of them move unless they have to. It's like this entire town is waiting for pestilence to overtake them; when the plague (usually metaphorical but made explicit here) does finally come for them, it seems less horrifying and more inevitable. Nosferatu the Vampyre is imperfect, but it's fascinating -- it's the rare horror film where it feels like Death has threaded itself through the projector.

Grade: B


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