Month of Horror 2015: World Edition – Germany (West Germany): Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht

Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.

Month of Horror: World Edition
10/23/2015 – Germany (West Germany): Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)
Directed by Werner Herzog

While a number of the countries so far have horror films dating back to the silent film era, no country’s output in the genre during that period has been as influential as that of Germany and the German Expressionist movement. The movement turned out such horror titles as The Cabinet of Dr. CaligariNosferatu, and Faust and such non-horror titles as Metropolis and Dr. Mabuse the Gambler. While some early sound era films such as The Testament of Dr. Mabuse and Vampyr made an impact, Germany horror output never reached the heights it had again and only turned out one more movie that was considered anywhere near that level (and it certainly wasn’t the mediocre Silence of the Lambs rip-off Antibodies or the MST3K-mocked Horrors of Spider Island. Werner Herzog is certainly one of the more preeminent directors I have taken a look at here perhaps behind only Ingmar Bergman and David Cronenberg and I’m sure many will argue the latter.

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht is a remake of the original Nosferatu but now with the ability to more readily copy elements from the officially public domain source material, Dracula. There were both German (the one I chose) and English (the apparently inferior one) versions filmed, a technique which harkens back to the early days of sound cinema and films such as the 1931 version of Dracula (the Spanish language version is the arguably superior one there). It seems redundant to discuss the plot at this point considering how frequently it has been filmed, but it still amazes me how different each film can get while still following the same basic story. Perhaps no other version has been so sympathetic to Dracula himself, while still treating him as a villain, and Klaus Kinski is to be commended for his performance here in what is one of the best portrayals of the role I have seen. Aside from him, the film also has Isabelle Adjani (The Driver) and Bruno Ganz (Wings of Desire and Downfall) as the Harkers and they do fine but the highlight here is in the look and feel of the film.

While I am not a huge fan of the original Nosferatu (heresy I know but chalk it up to its status as a silent film instead of anything specific), the one thing is nailed was its style. The more creature look of Count Orlock in that film has been preserved and updated and I’ve always preferred this design to the essentially human appearance of traditional vampires (though obviously that is needed for many uses of them to work). The contrast of dark and light with some particularly gorgeous shots with the use of shadows is on full display and is some of the most impressive use of this I’ve seen in a color film. Some of this may be owing to the fact that many shots are nearly identical to those in the original but it is impressive none the less

The film is very deliberately paced which has both its advantages and disadvantages. The film isn’t overly long and I really appreciated feel of the movie generated by the lingering shots and manner which everybody moved, but at the same time the almost hypnotic state of it left me struggling not to drift out of it. Still, this was a great film and perhaps the best all-around Dracula adaptation to date.

Month of Horror: World Edition
Bonus Episode #14 – Serbia (Yugoslavia): Déjà vu/Reflections (Već viđeno)(1987)
Directed by Goran Marković

While not an official entry, consider this Serbia/Yugoslavia’s entry for this month. While the phrase “Serbian film” now conjures the image of the controversial A Serbian Film, that is hardly the first movie to emerge from the country. Going in my knowledge of the films of the region were pretty much restricted (to my knowledge) to Dušan Makavejev’s experimental Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator and Man Is Not a Bird though the nation also turned out a pair of Palme d’Or winners in Emir Kusturica’s When Father Was Away on Business and Underground with all but the final movie (including today’s film) being made when the country was a part of Yugoslavia. Despite a very conflict heavy history, I actually had much more to choose from both Yugoslavia and its successors (though mostly centered around Serbia before and after) with such well received films as The She-ButterflyVariola Vera (also by Marković), and Strangler vs. Strangler and less well received films such as the aforementioned A Serbian Film.

Visually the film isn’t that impressive and I never once forgot I was watching a low budget 80’s Euro film. It has that very distinct look and color pallete. The film does do an impressive job however of clearly separating the three timelines visually while still making the transitions between them feel mostly natural. The actual transitions themselves feel a bit sloppily edited, but the film creates appropriate parallels that do not feel too on the nose. Not much to note with special effects, but the ones that do exist are fine. For the most part this film is a psychological thriller before VAGUE SPOILERS heading into a gorier climax but this transition generally feels earned as the whole film has been building to the main character’s break END OF SPOILERS.

Mustafa Nadarević is fairly compelling as the lead even if I felt some of his characters more sanity losing moments were a little too exaggerated for their own good. Anica Dobra on the other hand was over the top in the best possible way as she (both in character and in acting) would dominate the proceeding moving and talking with such forceful purpose as someone whose every action is clearly for her own personal advancement. There is an overtly political subtext to the film, one which I can mostly piece together from context and knowledge of history relating to the coming on Communism to Yugoslavia, but I still felt like I was missing something deeper that would be more apparent to Yugoslav viewers. The film is well paced and enjoyable, but it just lacks something to become truly memorable leaving me feeling much the same as I did after viewing Nightwatch.

Up Next: The Pang Brothers’ The Eye representing Hong Kong

Full Schedule