OOM #22 – Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)

Hello people who lurk in the shadows and find yourselves stumbling upon the madness that continuously goes on and on every day of the week, every day of October. It will all end soon, ladies and gentlemen, it will end on the 31st, when the portals of horror finally open and close for a few hours, allowing for the horrors that we can’t mention appear in our realm, disguising themselves among the disguised, preaching their deadly arts and deadly blows all around us. What a frightful night that will be, no matter what anyone says, it’s going to be deadly for some. And now the irony comes to bit me in the ass, as now it’s hotter than ever out there, and here I am talking about the gloom and the frights and the coldness of Halloween. Fuck me.

So, James Rolfe in the Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness of today has managed to point something interesting regarding the year in which the movie he chose, 1932. He mentions ‘The Mummy’ (1932), ‘The Old Dark House’ (1932), as well as the movie he chose, ‘Island of Lost Souls’ (1932), as examples of the grandiose terror that was released by different companies and performed by a classic troupe of actors. It is true, all three of those movies are great in some way or another, I don’t think that all of them together could come close to the greatness that was 1931 with ‘Dracula’ (1931), ‘Drácula’ (1931) and the masterpiece that is ‘Frankenstein’ (1931).

As you can guess, I’ve already seen ‘Island of Lost Souls’ (1932), and it was even one year, part of what at the time was called ’31 días de terror’ in my old blog in Spanish, Exodus8:2. Here’s a link to that piece, which you can read if you know Spanish or if you have some translator of sorts installed. In it I basically say that the story is chilling, classic but at the same time bloated with some filler that I wouldn’t mind dissecting away. I also talk about how much I’d love the movie if it was told from the perspective of the evil doctor, but I think that’s just a matter of how the movie is based on a story with a fixed perspective, but hey, I was younger, dumber and less cynical about what my future self could say about that. I rate it 8 out of 10.

So, since I’ve already seen the film pointed out by James Rolfe, I have to see a new one. Taking a look at yesterday’s movie, made in 1979, I had a new look at the personal list and I had the surprise of seeing how many vampire movies came out that year, among them a movie that I’ve already seen like the John Badham ‘Dracula’ (1979) a lackluster adaptation of the classic that I think might be the earliest precursor of the Twilight series of movies: romantic, dull, boring. Some luscious art direction and the presence of Frank Langella makes it worth seeing once only to be disappointed later. Anyway, the film that was unseen and seemed the most urgent was this one, directed by Werner Herzog. Let’s see how this apparently well regarded and classic film holds up to my scrutiny!

What a movie. I mean, this is more than a horror film. This is some kind of transcendent experience, something that doesn’t come from this world, but from some strange surreal landscape that is beyond comprehension and without any ties to our reality whatsoever. Maybe it’s Popol Vuh and their music from other universe, maybe it’s the foggy landscapes in which the horror always lurks but never shows itself fully enough for us to be scared about it. This is almost a romantic movie in the sense of how the idea or concept of horror seduces us and tries to surprise us, tries to court us into thinking that the horror may appear here or there, hiding and then appearing momentarily, just to hide again, courting us and then it doesn’t matter, we’re entranced by the presence and the eyes of Count Dracula himself.

This movie, according to Herzog, takes the visual cues and style from the 1922 Nosferatu film, but taking some literary elements that the film couldn’t have, being an unofficial version of Bram Stoker’s novel. Here Herzog mainly takes the epistolary elements of the original novel and puts them forward, like Coppola would later do in a much more literal manner, by having the texts fill the screen. Here the texts are telling narrative points that we’ve already seen, but they seem to be the only elements of speech that don’t decay in this world where everything seems to disappear except for the letters, diaries, journals and any other element that brings forward the information that people need in dire times. Klaus Kinski is one of the greatest actors I’ve ever had the pleasure to see in movies, I mean, he’s the most splendid thing that happens in this movie, the way that he imitates the performance of Max Schrek but also gives it his own spin with the movements of his hands, his head and even his speech is something frightful to encounter. The makeup is just ridiculously good, among the best that I could ever dream seeing in a movie before the 80’s.

As the movie progresses it becomes weirder and more aware of this weirdness that it has created, as it starts in a much normal way, and even a bit too classical for Herzog’s style. The movie slowly realizes that is something new and becomes separated from the concept of plot or script, giving us images that seem to come directly from the mind of the director, giving a free reign to the imagination, and in the end you realize that the world is ending, that it was just the beginning, that the plague came and that it brought doom and destruction not only for one town, but to the entire concept of society. Telling is how he even drops away the mythos of the story of Dracula itself, by having a completely useless Doctor Van Helsing that doesn’t actually believe in vampires, and one that also goes to jail for killing the Count, even though in a destroyed society, they can’t avoid defending those who apparently have more power than the commoner. And while no one will investigate the death of that young woman whose blood he sucked, everyone will try to prosecute Van Helsing for ridding them of the plague. Almost like a social statement, important and deep.



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