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Still from Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984)

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Nosferatu the Vampyre ★★★½

I liked this better than the the original one due to various reasons, but mostly because the 1992 version dragged a lot and didn't really show much of Nosferatu for a film that's about Nosferatu.

There's a sense of eeriness that pervades Herzog's 1979 version, not only because of the haunting music, but also because of how atmospheric it is. Herzog is, after all, an eccentric figure that will sometimes go to extreme lengths for a film. One such case is how he screened Aguirre: The Wrath of God on location; in the Peruvian Amazon with a bare-bones script and a stolen camera. Some sequences in this film are made so foreboding because of how atmospheric they are, and the dark/low-key lighting also serves to support that even more. Whilst Murnau's 1922 version has its fair share of creepy moments, it doesn't really take the time to explore its setting. What Herzog does well is he makes the castle feel large and desolate; the mountains isolated; the town — well, like a town. You know a horror film is done right when a mountain travel is made unsettling underneath a Richard Wagner composition. :)

Narrative wise, the two films are very similar. The 1979 version fills in details which the 1922 version lacked, or rather, extends on sequences, particularly that of the travel sections, making the remake feel more complete than the original one. One particular highlight of the film is when the town degenerates into a debauched, quasi-anarchy wherein townsfolk dance and dine in a "last supper" amidst fears of a plague — a scene which the original version did not have.

The characterization is also where the 1979 version differs from when compared to the original one. Murnau's 1922 version has simplicity when it comes to characters, and cannot be described beyond their actions. In Herzog's version, the borders which Murnau made where filled in with color. Lucy is made more spiritual and heroic because she is the only one who can save the town, and Nosferatu is turned into a monster who in truth yearns in desperation for love and not just mere sustenance.

Time is an abyss, profound as a thousand nights. Centuries come and go... to be unable to grow old is terrible... Can you imagine enduring centuries experiencing each day the same futile things?... The absence of love is the most abject pain.
- Count Dracula

Pretty deep words coming from a vampire, eh?

For all its goodies though, I cannot find myself rating the 1979 version higher than the original one (at least not yet) because there are things in the original that even Herzog's version cannot best. That is; the excellent use of shadows, the disturbing performance of Max Schreck as a Nosferatu with a lumbering presence, and some of the creepiest moments that even the 1979 version cannot emulate. Oh, and of course, a silent, maniacal Renfield is much less annoying than an actual talking one. But to be better than the original is not the point of this remake. Herzog loves the original version, so much so that he praises it as the greatest German film there is. Without the original, the remake wouldn't have had a decent framework to build upon. Herzog's version shouldn't be seen as one that is supposed to overtake Murnau's, but rather, one that is an accompaniment to one of the most influential films in the Horror genre.

C.M. liked these reviews