In 1922, German film director F.W. Murnau brought to life for the first time on film the story of Dracula. Unfortunately, he never secured the rights to the story from Bram Stoker’s widow. Murnau had changed the ending so that Count Orlok would be killed by sunlight rather than a wooden stake through the heart as Count Dracula was killed. That ploy didn’t work and a lawsuit followed and all known prints of Nosferatu were supposed to have been destroyed. Luckily, that didn’t happen and this legendary horror classic is still with us today. Max Schreck plays the lead role of Orlok with virtually no makeup (only the teeth and pointed ears were added). It is the image of a vampire that we’ve seen again in films when a more grotesque vampire is required, such as in Stephen Kling’s television miniseries Salem Lot. There is some interesting imagery and it is surprisingly atmospheric for its’ age. This is mandatory viewing but shop around before buying your copy. Kino Video offers the best image around. The film is in the public domain and there are countless copies out there that suffer from editing and overall poor quality.
If the 1922 version is mandatory, then certainly so is the 1979 remake. Not very often does a remake surpass the original but Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht/Nosferatu The Vampyre succeeds in my opinion. Klaus Kinski does an amazing job with his portrayal of the count (called Dracula here). Where Schreck was a hideous monster, Kinski hides the monster behind a veil of sadness. He wants to die must kill to survive. You actually feel sorry for him even as he continues to kill. Much of the plot concentrates on the plague in the city. Thousands of real gray rats were used and painted white (obviously before the days of CGI and PETA’s influence in the film industry). Director Werner Herzog was able to use the real names in his version as Stoker’s characters were now in the public domain. However, he kept to the original story as presented by Murnau. This movie is visually stunning. You feel the journey Jonathan Harker takes through the Carpathian mountains truly is an arduous one. Isabelle Adjani has a subtle sexuality in her roles as Lucy Harker. The final scene between Lucy and the count has an uneasy balance of sexual energy and horror as she clings on to the life to complete her task. Don’t expect Van Helsing to save the day in this one as the end is definitely not upbeat. I highly recommend watching this in the original German with subtitles as it adds to the atmosphere.