Nosferatu (1979)


Reviewer: Charity Bishop


I have never actually seen the silent film on which this is based, but on a whim I decided to rent Nosferatu. An eerie foreign film also produced simultaneously in English, it has strong remnants of the visual style of silent films (emphasis on faces, expressions, and artistic movements) while also being uncannily like the Bram Stoker novel in certain ways.


Young solicitor Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) is sent to Transylvania to handle the transactions of Count Dracula, who intends to purchase property abroad. His wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) has a strong sense of fear about his departure and pleads with him to delay, but the ambitious lawyer embarks into the dark forest surrounding the eerie castle where his mysterious host resides. Dracula (Klaus Kinski) keeps odd hours, has an unusual fascination with Harker, and in one instance, takes an unnatural interest in a bleeding finger. And before long, leaving Harker behind, he slips into a coffin aboard a ship, intent on possessing Lucy for himself...


The original novel and its various adaptations have always fascinated me and been a source for comparison; some films highlight certain elements and others downplay them. Dracula has been seen as a monster, as a romantic anti-hero, and as a victim of circumstance; he has come about his curse willingly or without choice. This is a slow moving but artistic depiction that is very like the novel at the start but becomes completely different as the story progresses; Dracula's travels abroad are accompanied by rats, who bring with them "the plague," and decimate entire areas. It is not blood-soaked or violent, or even particularly suggestive of sensuality, but powerful in the gentle hints of horror woven throughout and the striking visuals, from a family calmly eating a wedding banquet in a street teeming with rats to Lucy's terror as she watches in a mirror as a disembodied shadow enters her room. It harkens so much to the "silents" that it has a charm all its own.


For me, though, the true strength in it ties to the fact that a male-dominated story becomes a tale of a woman's courage and intelligence, for it is not Lucy who must be saved but who takes it upon herself to save the others, through an act of self-sacrifice that brings about the defeat of her adversary. This brings a weaving of feminism into a tale often defined by men, and gives it a unique twist from the usual damsel in distress vampire stories. It will not be for all audiences, as some may grow tired of its measured pace and deliberate illusions, and the characters are not always well defined or their motivations explained, but it really did feel at times as if it would translate well without any dialogue whatsoever, which is a testament to the strength of the visual narrative. 

Sexual Content:
A vampire pulls a woman's nightgown up to reveal her bare thigh, and rests his hand on her breast as he drinks from her neck.
None, other than people dying of the plague and/or sinking their teeth into one another's necks.

Atheist references are combined with religious beliefs to defeat vampires.