Spoilers ahead, but if you haven’t read Dracula or seen Nosferatu, it’s nearly 100 years old. I’m not sorry.
Many people, myself included, throw around hyperbolic statements such as perfection, sublime, superb, peerless and others. So much that they begin to lose meaning, sadly. Then you watch, read, play, listen to something which reminds you what those labels mean. For me, enter Nosferatu the Vampyre. A film which I believe is without peer in every single aspect, right down to the gorgeous art on the DVD box.
To begin with, I’m going to write about the image composition. Every frame is somewhat off kilter, sticking more to the rule of thirds than of centrally framed images, but it is somewhat imperfect. Ironically, the imperfections are exploited by Schmidt-Reitwein and Herzog to brilliant effect, constantly accentuating the sinister atmosphere, creating this constant foreboding feeling throughout the well-worn tale. Similar to Murnau’s original, Herzog’s film makes beautiful use of light and shadow contrasts to heighten the mood of the piece. A particular stand out is the dining scene upon Harker’s arrival to Dracula’s castle – the angles are flat out bizarre, and work wonderfully with the minimalist candle light of the room, furthering to the sound design, the creaking, wheezing castle and the breaths of the forlorn, lonely Count. It’s a magical, repulsive scene, singlehandedly cementing to me that Klaus Kinski is perhaps one of the greatest actors, or at the very least the greatest I have personally seen.
He is undoubtedly the core of the film, giving an unseen pathos and tragedy to the figure of Count Dracula, who is (in my view) too often played as a comically evil man, or a beautiful man with a bizarre kink. Here, Kinski plays him as a man as decrepit as the castle he calls home. He speaks to Harker saying that “There are more horrible things than death”. He takes this concept and runs with it, imbuing that tragic notion of immortality that robs you of humanity, and builds his entire performance around it. This Dracula is rat-like, socially awkward and utterly, holistically creepy. Kinski just utterly nails the character, and in all honesty I’m extremely sad it’s only 107 minutes long. I need more!
Finally, the film also employs what Herzog usually goes with in many of his other works: shooting on location. This gives the film a certain texture and realism which allows the eccentricities of the characters to flourish wonderfully, and comes to a head in the ending, wherein the small town Harker and his wife inhabits succumbs to a plague, brought about by Dracula’s rats. The town transforms, becoming desolate. Sick people and bodies begin to line the streets, with all houses boarded up. It becomes very believable that Dracula has a tangible effect on the town, and it is very impressive (much like in Aguirre) that the setting contorts itself to fit the mental state of the characters. It’s just a touch which I cannot consciously recall in many films, but it just elevates it beyond many other works.
Ultimately, this is not only the greatest Vampire film, not only does it contain my personal favourite acting performance I have yet seen, but it is perhaps the greatest film I have seen thus far. Herzog and Kinski is one hell of a combination.