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Sunday, July 21, 2024


Especially for Halloween, the Reichhold Center for the Arts has booked as this weekend's "Cinema Sunday" offering a neoclassic film about that fearsome favorite of horror stories, Count Dracula.
Nosferatu the Vampyre is German director Werner Herzog's 1979 remake of the 1921 classic of the same name by also-German silent film director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. According to a number of cinema critics, that's pretty much where the similarity stops — except, of course, for the fact that both films are about the fabled neck romancer brought to never-ending not-quite-life in the 19th Century by novelist Bram Stoker.
Actually, Murnau got in hot water with the plagiarism patrol because he didn't credit Stoker with his story line, an error Herzog was careful not to repeat.
The story, critics have pointed out, is one that the viewer had best be familiar with before going to see Herzog's version, so as "to comprehend exactly what the disjointed scenes are referring to," as British reviewer Damian Cannon put it.
(As luck would have it, Pistarckle Theater is presenting a stage adaptation of Stoker's work this very weekend at Coral World. So if you haven't read the book, you could at least see the play before going to the flick.)
The story begins with the arduous journey of a recently married real estate agent, Jonathan Harker (played by Bruno Ganz), from The Netherlands to Transylvania to close a lucrative sale of some property in his hometown to the reclusive Count Dracula (portrayed by Klaus Kinski). Harker meets the emaciated count with long incisors and longer fingernails in the dark of night in the castle he calls home. In short order, Harker is trapped in the vampire's lair, fearing for his own life and that of his wife, Lucy (played by Isabelle Adjani), back home in the town in which the count plans to take up residence. Dracula makes his escape and heads by sea for his inevitable encounter with the sensual and ethereal Lucy. And. . . well, enough for now.
Interestingly, critics who like and who dislike Herzog's Nosferatu cite a number of the same elements in support of their viewpoints. Those who have panned the picture complain of the manipulative imagery, overly symbolic uses of light (or lack thereof) and music (Wagner and Popol Vuh) and characters who come across as caricatures. Those favorably impressed also cite the exquisite photography "eliciting an almost transcendental experience." And the picture won the 1979 Berlin International Film Festival award for best production design.
Both camps point out that the picture is not scary. "What you get is not a horror movie, since it lacks even the barest hint of unease, but a deconstruction of Dracula," Cannon writes in negative vein. "It is not especially frightening," another reviewer says in affirmation, adding, "This may discourage some Dracula fans, but to those who want a hypnotic, smart vampire film, this is the one to see." Herzog's handiwork, a DVD reviewer writes, is "a slow, deliberate and terrifying film that chills the viewer slowly like an encroaching fog," with Dracula at its center as "a pathetic creature that is to be both feared and pitied."
Character development and meaningful dialogue are not notable elements of Nosferatu. Cannon complains that the cast gets "little opportunity to more than appear the part, while being forced to go without either lines or activity." Still, Kinski wins plaudits for his incarnation of "the loneliness and sadness of a creature who. . . wants only to live, love and die like a human." And he won the 1979 German Film Award for best actor.
Cannon accuses Herzog of trying "to achieve the impossible: remaining true to the definitive film version of this story while taking the count into uncharted territory," and, he says, falling — and failing — somewhere in between. Nonetheless, he praises Herzog for "his intellectual rigor and daring approach to a familiar story."
The picture was filmed separately in German and in English. The version being shown for "Cinema Sunday" is in German with English subtitles.
So: Go to see this one for its artistic elements, not for thrills and chills. Show time Sunday is 7 p.m. The Reichhold gates open half an hour before that. Admission is $5. They sell popcorn, candy and soft drinks that you're allowed to take to your seat.

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