A Second Look: Werner Herzog’s NOSFERATU: PHANTOM DER NACHT
By Clarke Wolfe on May 20, 2014
Werner Herzog’s 1979 Nosferatu The Vampyre pays homage to one of the “grandfathers” of German cinema, F.W. Murnau and his 1922 silent classic Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. Herzog’s tribute film has just been released on Blu-ray (you can read Kyle Anderson’s review of the film here) and alongside the English language film is an alternate German language version.
In exchange for financing some of the film, 20th Century Fox requested the film be shot in English so Herzog filmed dialogue scenes twice in order to avoid dubbing. Both male leads, Klaus Kinski and Bruno Ganz, were native German speakers and the German language film is considered by most to be the definitive version.
I had the pleasure of screening a 35mm print of Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht on the big screen at The Cinefamily here in Los Angeles as part of 35th anniversary tribute. I have to say, this experience was much different than when I had previously tried to watch the film a few years ago. It goes without saying that anytime an actor has to speak in a different language something will be lost in translation and it’s very clear that both Kinski and Ganz are more comfortable working in their native tongues. While I believe both versions of the film to be a bit uneven, when the movie works it works so very well.
Some of the imagery is still breathtaking and the score by German group Popol Vuh is ominous and haunting in every way. While the moments that are faithful recreations of the Murnau film are fun for any horror fan to see, the unique scenes that Herzog brings to his version, specifically the opening shots of the mummies and the sequences in the town when everyone knows they are going to die from the plague, are without question my favorites. For fans of foreign film, horror or cinema in general, I would absolutely recommend screening Herzog’s Nosferatu in German and now, thanks to Shout Factory, you can on Blu-ray.
Nosferatu The Vampyre/ Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, directed by Werner Herzog and starring Isabelle Adjani, Klaus Kinski and Bruno Ganz, is available from Shout Factory on Blu-ray now.