Monday Morning Movie Review: Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

I’m coming off a dizzyingly long Thanksgiving, and while I enjoyed quite a bit of unstructured time, I surprisingly did not have much time for writing.  Posts from the past week indicate the amount of phoning in I’ve done lately, and this week’s Monday Morning Movie Review will likely be no different.

The idea for this review came from my good buddy photog over at Orion’s Cold Fire.  On Halloween he wrote a large double review of the 1922 silent film Nosferatu and the Werner Herzog remake, Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979).

After reading his review, I found that Shudder had the Herzog remake—which photog correctly identifies as a tribute to the 1922 F. W. Murnau film—and watched it.  I will say that photog’s review really does an excellent job of detailing the highlights, so I’d encourage you to read it.  As he goes through much of the plot, I’ll leave that alone, and instead will give some of my thoughts on the film.

As photog noted, the Herzog remake very much follows the Murnau silent film, which itself ripped off Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Murnau’s Nosferatu is called as such as an attempt to avoid copyright issues from Stoker’s estate).  The most notable element is the appearance of Count Dracula himself—the extremely pale, bald, pointy-eared monster with long fingernails and twin fangs in place of his two front teeth.  That classic Nosferatu look comes back here, with added color, which actually gives Dracula an even sicklier pallor than the black-and-white version.

What is so striking to me about this Nosferatu‘d version of Dracula is that Jonathan Harker and others treat him as a totally normal real estate purchaser, in spite of his clearly demonic appearance.  Even leaving aside the pale skin, yellow eyes, elven ears, and beaver teeth, the fingernails should be a dead giveaway that something is amiss.  I mean, I’m bad about letting me go a week past when they should be cut, but Dracula’s curl around grotesquely, to the point that it affects his ability to his hands.

Well, some suspension of disbelief is in order for a movie about a vampire.  That gripe aside, I love this version of Dracula, as it makes him even more animalistic and terrifying than the suave Dracula of the 1931 Universal Studios version.  The guttural German also lends to some added creepiness.

Being a Werner Herzog movie, there is a strain of nihilism present in Nosferatu the Vampyre that is not really explored in the 1931 Dracula or the 1922 Nosferatu.  Dracula here wishes for death, to be released from his never-ending undeath.  That notion—the world-weary vampire who has grown weary of his endless existence—is a fairly common trope in vampire films and literature now; I doubt it was quite so prevalent in 1979.  Regardless, it lends a bit of sympathy to the monster on-screen, even if we still wish for his demise (and, like most nihilists, Dracula doesn’t really want what he seeks; otherwise, he’d just walk into the sunlight and end himself).

There’s one arresting scene in which Dracula demands of Lucy, Jonathan’s betrothed, her love.  In the context of this scene, I took this to mean he wanted to do the Batusi with Lucy, but it could have been intended in a less carnal sense.  The scene gives a real sense for how desperately alone Dracula’s existence is, and how such a being—hideous both inside and out—is virtually impossible to love.  We don’t often think about Dracula’s feelings, and Nosferatu the Vampyre gives the character additional depth.

Of course, in Dracula there is something of a glimpse of Hell—an eternity divorced from the One True Source of Love, Christ Jesus.  Dracula’s lust or longing for Lucy might temporarily sate his vampiric loneliness—his desire for at least some simulacrum of love—but it will never truly satisfy him.

I’ve read before that vampires are something of a wretched perversion of Christ:  where He died and was Resurrected, giving us the gift of eternal life in the process, and atoning for our sins, vampires are “resurrected” as the living dead, forced to feed on life itself to survive, bringing only eternal death.  Herzog’s Dracula is the closest filmic or literary depiction of this concept I’ve ever encountered.

All theologizing and armchair analyzing aside, the story is essentially the same as Dracula (1931), although Harker, not Renfield, goes to see Dracula.  I’m sure there are some other differences, but the main plot points aren’t too different.

The major gripe I had with this film was the soundtrack, which was just too cheesy.  I like some cheese, but this was just too much.  Also, there is a little boy playing a folk melody badly out of tune several times in the film.  I’m sure it’s meant to symbolize something, but for me, it just represented a dying cat scraped across a washboard.

But if you’re a Dracula completionist, Nosferatu the Vampyre is a must-see on your journey through the night.



11 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

  1. Thanks for the review. I’ll keep an eye on it. Also watch Shadow of the Vampire (2000) which plays around the making of the original.

    I’d post more on this but I’m fuming today. Will pop out in a bit and hope the fresh air calms me down.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. To be perfectly honest, I’ve avoided the 1922 version because it’s the only depiction of Dracula that really frightens me. Even today. That is some of the scariest makeup I’ve ever seen. It, of course, comes up in the YT suggestions every October but I just skim my eyes right past it because it creeps me out.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. One of your comments reminds me I have to dig out Shadow of the Vampire when I get a chance. I haven’t seen it in years but I remember there were some very funny scenes when the Vampire started killing off the actors.

    Liked by 1 person

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