Horror films are a difficult thing to peg down. They often are so sloppily put together and so cheap that they tend to be nothing more than C and B movies. On top of that, Werner Herzog movies are difficult to nail down. His films are unlike anything that any other filmmaker creates. The combination of a horror film and the director Werner Herzog is bound to bring about a strange creation which is difficult to summarize and pin down. Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre is a remake of the 1922, F.W. Murnau film Nosferatu. Herzog has said in interviews that Nosferatu is the greatest of all German films. Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of Murnau’s film. It’s a very beautiful film, but I found it a bit uninteresting and weaker than many other silent films that I love. Herzog’s film, however, is absolutely remarkable. In every possible way it is an improvement over the original film. Herzog’s handheld camera, loose and frantic staging, and impressionistic lighting are build this film in a fever dream of a film. Both Herzog’s and Murnau’s films are loosely based retellings of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. At the time Murnau’s film was made, he was unable to secure the rights to the book and had to change the names of all the characters as well as restructure the story. Herzog, in trying to bridge a gap between Murnau’s film and the book, decided to follow the plot of Murnau’s film, meanwhile retaining the character names from the book.
Klaus Kinski, possibly the most emotionally unstable actor in history, disappears into his makeup and performance. He captures the performance of Lord Dracula very well, although there is a chance that in the early stages of the film he comes across as a bit too creepy. When our initial hero, Johnathan Harker, first leaves his wife Lucy for a business trip and travels to Dracula’s mansion in Transylvania, the first thing we see of the Count is how creepy he looks. Up until that point there have been many warnings that the Count is a monster and that his mansion is best to be avoided. In fact, when Harker first approaches the house he must travel through a mountain pass that goes through a cave. Visually Herzog paints this cave as though it is the realm of hell and hades. The visual touches, such as the hades-esque cave pass, and the renaissance-style lighting, are all typically “Herzogian” visual motifs. The story, of course, plays out in almost the exact same was as Murnau’s 1922 film, but with a few minor additions. In the grand scheme of Werner Herzog films, this one fits into the overall mode of thought where a man encounters an extraordinary situation, undertaking, or person. Harker, much like the Spanish explorer Aguirre, finds himself a strange, dream-like world where the senses and mind cannot be trusted. Harker also has much in common with Timothy Treadwell from Grizzly Man (2005, dir. Werner Herzog) in that he is a man up to his neck in a situation he cannot even begin to understand the implications and dangers of.
Listening to Werner Herzog often feels like a lecture in the ridiculous, and by that I mean that his philosophical ideas are just different. The man says things that would sound incredibly stupid coming out of anyone else’s mouth, yet somehow sound perfectly normal when that thick German accent in layered on top of them. He is the only filmmaker who has ever made a film on every continent. He has traveled the world, made films on most every topic imaginable, and has an opinion on nearly everything. His voice and manner of speaking are routinely parodied, and yet he is a highly regarded and respected filmmaker. It all boils down to that he knows how to tell a story effectively via visuals, characters, and environment. Not only is he one of the most prolific directors working today, he is also one of the most talented. His additions to the world-cinema canon are staggering and Nosferatu the Vampyre is one of those great films. Today we live in a world wherein most films are brainless remakes and superhero movies. Thankfully we still have Werner Herzog.