Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski’s creative partnerships are historic. The notorious temper of Kinski coupled with Herzog’s grandiose pipe-dreaming made for bombastic on and offscreen affairs. It was hell for them and movie ecstasy for us. Their fiendish friendship circuited rather publicly from the early 1970s through to Kinski’s woebegone death in 1991. Succeeding their debut collaboration, Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), the actor swiftly established himself as a capricious pest and intimidator. This unfathomable energy and unhinged behaviour is encapsulated perfectly in the duo’s follow-up, a moody and illusory homage to F.W. Murnau’s time-honoured silent classic, Nosferatu (1922).
Following the release of the rights to Bram Stoker’s Dracula within the public domain, Herzog had complete freedom to bury himself in the story’s nuances. The result was Nosferatu, the Vampyre (1979). While receiving critical nods for its stabilised approach to horror and the universally laudable acting, its vintage artistry has made Herzog’s retelling perhaps the most ageless and bewitching to date. Masterfully scored by Krautrock pioneers Popul Vuh, the mist and gloom of the Holland hills plays a wonderfully scenic allegory for Kinski’s monster. Rather than traumatise with Christopher Lee-esque omnipresence and unhallowed power, this Nosferatu is ultimately pathetic. Kinski plays the decrepit loner, the desperate lover and the deformed romancer – though his vamp doesn’t lack the ability to chill
Visual bows to Murnau’s silent are frequent. Four-hour sessions with make-up artist Reiko Kruk sees our Dracula gaunt and cadaverous, with hooked front fangs and colourless claws. Near-static bats dangle lifeless amidst deep blue backdrops. Narratively, Herzog is undeniably in debt to Stoker’s imagination and Murnau’s direction. As expected, enterprising estate agent Johnathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) is assigned to peddle prime real estate to the well-to-do Transylvanian hermetic, Count Dracula. Here stems the horrific tale of well-versed bloodsucking. Moments of uniformity to the original yarn are expectedly intermittent. Its metaphorical symbolism is obvious yet tactful. What’s more, the bourgeois panorama of the Wismar-situated castle makes for explicitly Gothic and German Expressionist undertones.
The devilishly poetic aesthetic aids to the monster’s mysticism and nightmarish dexterity.Anecdotal parallels with the Nazi uprising can be made and are by no means laboured. Yet what makes this remodelling so indisputable is the emotional acumen of Kinski. He yearns with every glance and every lyrical murmur. Whereas Gary Oldman’s blood-craving Casanova was lavish and lustful in Coppola’s over-budget nineties pap, the socially-revered Kinski seemingly seeks what he will never find; love. His performance is completely organic and infectious. Herzog may shepherd the creative output, but its Kinski’s impassioned misrule that makes Nosferatu, the Vampyre truly terrifying.