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Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre

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Werner Herzog’s moody homage to F.W. Murnau’s silent terror masterpiece Nosferatu is a transcendent remake that remains one of the maverick moviemaker’s most haunting, atmospheric and darkly poetic films. Ignoring decades of cinematic vampire mythology ingrained by such directors as Tod Browning (Dracula) and Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula), Herzog instead harkens back to the apex of German cinema and culture before the dark years of the Nazi regime, re-imagining F.W. Murnau’s original 1922 classic (which he considered one of the greatest German films ever made), as well as Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, with his own distinctly unsettling and offbeat sensibilities. Seemingly born to play Count Dracula, frequent Herzog star Klaus Kinski plays the grotesquely bat-like, bucktoothed bloodsucker as a pitiable, world-weary creature cursed with the loneliness of eternal life. Wracked by guilt, longing for death, and crushed under the weight of centuries, the Count becomes drawn to the ethereal beauty of his naïve estate agent Jonathan Harker’s (Bruno Ganz) wife, Lucy (Isabelle Adjani), setting in motion a tragic and nightmarish series of events that threaten to destroy them all. Herzog’s remake at times matches the original shot for shot — with Kinski’s supremely creepy monster a dead-ringer for original star Max Schreck — but adding sound, color, a passionate and sensual heroine in Isabelle Adjani, 11,000 plague-ridden rats, and haunting slow-motion shots of vampire bats in flight gives Herzog’s take an unforgettable atmosphere all its own. Herzog shot two versions simultaneously: an English-language version that was released in the U.S. theatrically and on video, and this newly restored German-language version (with English subtitles) that’s been virtually unseen here in the States. A true classic, Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre is one of the most unforgettable genre films ever made. (Dir. by Werner Herzog, 1979, Germany/France, in English, German & Romani with subtitles, 107 mins., Rated PG) Digital