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Horror Month | Nosferatu (1979) – After Murnau, Herzog left his mark on vampiric mythology



Rereading Stoker’s work featured in a German movement

Between 1962 and 1982, the German film industry witnessed the emergence of the new German cinema, an initiative led by the new generation of emerging filmmakers and inspired, mainly, by the French New Wave. A characteristic shared by all the projects of the period was the lack of budget.

Among the names that have led this phase are those of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders and Vladimir Herzog. During the 1970s, the latter’s filmography became a center of interest in the West German and American markets.

Around 1974, his biographical work, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, based on a 19th century true story, was the representative of West Germany to claim an Oscar nomination for best foreign film, but the nomination no did not take place.

Kaspar Hauser highlighted Herzog’s work

Yet the excellent critical reception with The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser catapulted the director’s name to a wider audience so that he could venture into horror. Initially, his plan was to make a remake of Nosferatu from 1922, which is one of the most important films in German history and a symbol of the expressionist movement that displaced national cinema at the turn of the 20th century.

The original work by filmmaker FW Murnau was born accidentally, in which the director, not owning the rights to adapt Bram Stoker’s book, Dracula, performed the same story but changing specific names and locations. Inevitably, a lawsuit was filed and the author’s family won, which led to the decision that the Nosferatu negatives were all destroyed.

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In this way, the 1922 work gathered its own audience of admirers over the century, including Herzog himself. However, what began as a desire to honor a great classic changed course when, also in the 1970s, copyright in Dracula ceased to be valid and ownership became public domain.

The director, now having at his disposal all the original elements that Murnau did not have, readapted his vision to something more in keeping with the creation of Stoker. Names known to the public such as Mina, Jonathan Harker, Renfield and Count Dracula himself were included in the script which at the end of the experiment only had the title (Nosferatu: The Night Vampire ) as a reminder of the original idea for the remake.

Herzog is an avowed admirer of “Nosferatu”

For the main role, the director recruited Klaus Kinski, an actor with whom he had already worked twice, as in Aguirre. As with the original 1922 Nosferatu actor Max Schreck, the makeup process at Kinski was quite long and complex; it is estimated that each day he spent only four hours in this process.

Another problematic part of the production was the use of rats; this version of Dracula being a representation, according to Herzog, of a disease that inevitably forces people to re-evaluate the value of things. In this way, the rats have great visual importance in the film; the problem was that the way they were transported resulted in conditions that required them to practice cannibalism, making it difficult for them to be imported into the Netherlands (where the recordings took place).

Nosferatu: The Phantom of the Night achieved instant cult status in just a few short years. Not only that, but he had a significant impact on the vampire genre, which in the ’60s and’ 70s was constantly bombarded with low-budget adaptations of Dracula (the Hammer movies being one example). Herzog ran away from the norm and delivered an author’s work and included it in a larger shot of new German cinema, ensuring the work looked different.

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