After capturing the attention of American critics and public with ambitious, unique, and powerful films, German director Werner Herzog remade what he considers to be the most visionary and important of all German films, F.W. Murnau's 1922 silent masterpiece, NOSFERATU. Held together by the
sheer power of Klaus Kinski's performance as the vampire, NOSFERATU, THE VAMPIRE evokes several scenes (practically shot-for-shot) from the Murnau classic while slightly altering some of the original's thematic structures. In Murnau's film, the vampire is pure evil invading a small German
community (Herzog feels that the 1922 film adumbrated the rise of Nazism in Germany). Herzog's vampire is much more sympathetic. An outcast from society (as are all of Herzog's protagonists), Kinski's Nosferatu longs for contact, acceptance, and even love from the humans who fear and revile him.
Sadly, his curse and death's-head appearance forever prevent this. The vampire's undead state and need for blood seem to be presented as a horrible, irreversible disease, rather than an inherently evil harbinger of hell. While this isn't exactly an innovation in the development of the horror film
(Tod Browning's DRACULA, 1931, starring Bela Lugosi, had moments of pathos, as does George Romero's MARTIN), Herzog and Kinski succeed here because they convey a sense of pity for a creature so visually repulsive it's hard to look at him.
As with most of Herzog's films, the story behind the production is almost more interesting than the film itself. Unable to shoot in Bremen, as Murnau did in 1922, Herzog prepared to settle for the Dutch town of Delft. Still bitter over their occupation by the Nazis during WWII, the citizens of
Delft were less than enthusiastic about this small army of German filmmakers invading their town. When Herzog announced his plan to release 11,000 rats into the streets of Delft for the scene in which Nosferatu arrives (the director wanted grey rats but could only obtain white ones, which his crew
painted grey), the Delft burgermeister categorically refused and told the apparently insane German that his town had just spent months clearing the canals of their own home-grown rats and had no intention of reinfesting the area with laboratory rats from Hungary. Nonplussed, Herzog moved his rats
to a more accommodating city, Schiedam, where he was allowed to shoot, albeit on a smaller scale.
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