The original silent film Nosferatu (out of copyright these days and therefore in the public domain, hence viewable in its entirety here) is quite rightly held up as one of the best horror films ever made. It’s a brilliant plagiarism of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, successfully sued as such by Stoker’s widow, but even as a rip-off it brings so much originality and creativity of its own to the table that it’s still deservedly celebrated. Part of the 1920s German Expressionism movement, it’s a hallowed set text of German film history, so it would take someone pretty ballsy to step up and try to remake it. Werner Herzog has massive Bavarian balls.

Not held back by any threat of litigation (the copyright on Dracula expired in 1979, the year this film was released), Herzog attempted a kind of fusion between a straight remake of the FW Murnau classic and a more direct adaptation of the novel (Murnau changed character names and a few other minor details in an attempt – unsuccessfully – to avoid legal issues). He also took the unusual step of filming each scene at least twice, getting takes of the actors performing their lines in both German and English, so there are two different versions of the film available (the German one with subtitles is the better of them). The results are fascinating, though curiously not in the least bit scary.

The opening credits are the only disturbing thing in the whole film in fact – a haunting display of real mummified corpses from a massive cholera outbreak in 19th century Mexico (a typically Herzog left-field choice). Everything else has the odd effect of reminding you of the Murnau original, or the Stoker novel, but with the atmosphere of a sumptuous costume drama, rather than any kind of effective horror. Possibly more than any other Dracula adaptation, Herzog seems most preoccupied with the psychology of loneliness, with regards to the title character. Klaus Kinski’s monster is a sad figure, full of self-loathing and bereft of the camp frippery that marks most 70s vampire movies, making you feel pity rather than repulsion.

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE
Almost as good as the silent classic upon which it's based8
Arguably the best film version of the Dracula story9
The parade of real dead people during the opening credits10
Taking its time with the psychology of its characters9
Weirdly, not in the least bit frightening5
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • None of the female characters talk to each other
8Overall Score

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