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It is rare to encounter a remake of a classic that actually lives up to the original, while at the same time not being redundant by simply recreating the previous film without any real need or improvements. A tributary homage to F.W. Murnau's silent classic "Nosferatu," Werner Herzog's 1979 "Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht" ("Nosferatu the Vampyre") for the most part follows the older film's plot in its broader strokes, just as the original did with its adaptation of Bram Stoker's famous vampire novel "Dracula" - only this time the characters are actually named after the book's characters due to relapsed copyright (even if inexplicably the names of Lucy and Mina from the novel have been switched around for the two characters, with Lucy here being Jonathan Harker's wife) and some key changes in plot also differentiating it from the gazillion other "Dracula" adaptations. Klaus Kinski, in his second collaboration with Herzog after "Aguirre," takes on the role of Count Dracula, but presents a very different version of the count to the more typical depictions popularised by Bela Lugosi that turned him into a suave and erotic monster in gentleman's clothing, instead showing him as a pitiful and jealous creature who cannot die: miserable, lonely, and hungry for the love Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) bestows on her husband.
There is nothing romantic in this interpretation of the vampire, but still Dracula isn't just a mindless monster as in Murnau's film, rather showing a level of depravity the vampire cannot free himself from, while despising what he has become and hating how far he has fallen over the centuries. Similarly the movie perverts the Victorian era portrayals of many of the other characters from the source material, none perhaps more than the perennially popular Abraham Van Helsing (played by Walter Ladengast), who here is shown to be almost impotent in his inability to make a difference to anything that's happening around him, let alone understanding any of it at all, while the moment he finally does do something actively heroic against the dark forces of Dracula's corruptive power, he ends up being punished with perhaps one of the most ironic endings the character has ever experienced. With its more chilling and tragic conclusion, and a level of grimness that strips away a lot of the more romantic connotations from the Dracula mythos (including a spreading plague in the city following Dracula's arrival to his new home and the repeating imagery of death throughout), this is a beautifully made film that honours the original "Nosferatu," yet still offers something new to the table to make it a remake that doesn't pale in comparison to the older movie's classic status. (c) berlioz 2014