Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Wow. I haven’t written in a while. Well, let’s get on with it and not wallow in the sorrow of wasted time!  And, there’s no better filmmaker to begin again with than Werner Herzog.

I’m sure I’ve said it in nearly every single post I’ve ever written about a Herzog film, but what I like most about his films are their characteristically Herzoggian qualities: real footage, clearly real people used as actors, slow folky music, and many times the spasmodic intensity of Klaus Kinski. Now, don’t get me wrong here: I’m not going to go into a rave over Kinski’s acting skills or something like that; rather, I’d prefer to just point out that Kinski’s ability to unleash himself in front of the camera is part of his mystique. Actually, Kinski-as-Count-Dracula doesn’t specifically take up a large amount of face-time on camera; but when he’s there, he’s there. When Dracula lunges at Jonathan, it isn’t in a pull-your-punch sort of way–a surge from Kinski is a surge from the real Count. This was an appreciably noticeable quality also in Woyzeck, when Woyzeck is stabbing Marie.  Herzog has a way of framing his characters that provides an added layer of intensity, and when Count Dracula enters Jonathan’s room for the first time, the poised hands, bulbous white head, and cowering shadowyness of the vampyre makes the viewer react similarly to Jonathan (run!) although not with quite the same shriek!  Imagine yourself looking up to find those luscious lips against such pale skin coming after your neck.

As with most Herzog films, the issue of trust in science was brought up. Lucy clearly didn’t trust the efficacy of Dr. Van Helsing’s proposed scientific method for determining the root of Jonathan’s ailments. Multiple times he proposed a thorough scientific evaluation and she brushed him off. In the end, though he had to trust that the vampire book held the key to their troubles, he still sought to find a scientific explanation for the general problem. Meanwhile, Jonathan’s riding off into the desert on a horse, seemingly insane, seemingly succumbing to his multiple vampire bites.  Maybe there are no scientific explanations for things; or there are no reasons to attempt to identify, scientifically, the root causes and cures for certain diseases. There certainly seems to be some sort of message about mental illness that Herzog’s trying to tell us because Jonathan’s boss, Mr. Renfield, is clearly insane.  Renfield’s insanity helps propagate Dracula’s disease(s)–he brings vampirism and the plague with him from Transylvania. Either Renfield was already insane and was somehow planted by Dracula, or he was driven insane by his orders (i.e. the letter he received from Dracula) to send Jonathan across the Carpathian Mountains to certain death…one might wonder what the point was of sending Jonathan at all….hmm….maybe a plot-hole.

We know for sure that in other Herzog films, such as Woyzeck, there is a severe doubt cast on scientists, doctors, and academics so there’s something to be said about that in this film also.  And, we might as well throw religion in there as well. One of the funniest moments of the film, if any moments could be categorized as funny, is when Dracula is hiding his various black caskets around the city when he first arrives in Germany. One of the locations he places a casket is in an old ruined church; after he has set down the casket, he notices a crucifix hanging on the wall and he gives it a “hrmmmphf” and a swatting of the hand, then he barrels out the door on to his next location.

I’m not much into the lore of vampires and Count Dracula so I don’t quite understand the significance of bringing the plague to Germany with him other than to give credence to the theory that vampires don’t actually exist, but it is actually the plague that kills people. I can’t imagine why Count Dracula would want to decimate his ready-dinners by killing them all off with plague first. Must be some ulterior message in there.  But Herzog does have Dr. Van Helsing drive a stake into Dracula’s heart nonetheless, just in case, since that’s what he read to do in the vampire book.

I wish this could be a better post, but for the time being, it’ll have to do until my brain can be re-vamped!

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