Nosferatu the Vampyre
Nosferatu Phantom der Nacht.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Werner Herzog
Produced by Michael Gruskoff
Werner Herzog
Walter Saxer
Daniel Toscan du Plantier
Screenplay by Werner Herzog
Based on Dracula by
Bram Stoker
Starring Klaus Kinski
Isabelle Adjani
Bruno Ganz
Music by Popol Vuh
Cinematography Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein
Editing by Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus
Studio Gaumont
Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, München
Distributed by 20th Century Fox (1979)
518 Media (US 2005)
Release date(s) October 5, 1979 (1979-10-05)
Running time 107 minutes
Country West Germany
Language German
Budget DEM2.5 million
Box office ITL 53,870,000

Nosferatu the Vampyre is a 1979 West German vampire horror film written and directed by Werner Herzog. Its original German title is Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht ("Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night"). The film is set primarily in 19th century Wismar, Germany and Transylvania, Romania, and was conceived as a stylistic remake of the 1922 German Dracula adaptation, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. It stars Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula, Isabelle Adjani as Lucy Harker, Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Harker, and French artist-writer Roland Topor as Renfield.

Herzog's production of Nosferatu was very well-received by critics and enjoyed a comfortable degree of commercial success.[1] The film also marks the second of five collaborations between director Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski,[2] immediately followed by 1979's Woyzeck. The film had 1,000,000 Admissions in Germany and grossed ITL 53,870,000 in Italy.[3] The film was also a modest success in Adjani's home country taking in 933,533 admissions in France.[4]


Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) is an estate agent in Wismar, Germany. His boss, Renfield (Roland Topor), informs him that a nobleman named Count Dracula wishes to buy a property in Wismar, and assigns Harker to visit the count and complete the lucrative deal. Leaving his young wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) behind in Wismar, Harker travels for four weeks to Transylvania, to the castle of Count Dracula. He carries with him the deeds and documents needed to sell the house to the Count. On his journey, Jonathan stops at a village, where locals plead for him to stay clear of the accursed castle, providing him with details of Dracula's vampirism. Harker ignores the villager's pleas as superstition, and continues his journey unassisted. Harker arrives at Dracula's castle, where he meets the Count (Klaus Kinski), a strange, ancient, almost rodent-like man, with large ears, pale skin, sharp teeth, and long fingernails.

The lonely Count is enchanted by a small portrait of Lucy and immediately agrees to purchase the Wismar property, especially with the knowledge that he and Lucy would become neighbors. As Jonathan's visit progresses, he is haunted at night by a number of dream-like encounters with the vampiric Count. Simultaneously, in Wismar, Lucy is tormented by night terrors, plagued by images of impending doom. Additionally, Renfield is committed to an asylum after biting a cow, apparently having gone completely insane. To Harker's horror, he finds the Count asleep in a coffin, confirming for him that Dracula is indeed a vampire. At night, Dracula leaves for Wismar, taking with him a number of coffins, filled with the cursed earth that he needs for his vampiric rest. Harker finds that he is locked in the castle, and attempts to escape through a window with a makeshift rope. The rope, fashioned from bedsheets, is not long enough, and Jonathan falls, severely injuring himself. He awakes on the ground the next morning, stirred by the sound of a young gypsy boy playing a violin. He is eventually sent to a hospital and raves about "black coffins" to doctors, who then assume that the sickness is affecting his mind.

Meanwhile, Dracula and his coffins travel to Wismar by boat. He systematically kills the entire crew, making it appear as if they were afflicted with plague. The ghost ship arrives, with its cargo, at Wismar, where doctors - including Abraham Van Helsing (Walter Ladengast) - investigate the strange fate of the ship. They discover a log that mentions their perceived affliction with plague. In turn, Wismar is flooded with rats from the ship. Dracula arrives in Wismar with his coffins, and death spreads rapidly throughout the town. When Jonathan is finally transported home, he is desperately ill, and does not appear to recognize his wife. Lucy later has an encounter with Count Dracula; weary and unable to die, he demands some of the love that she gave so freely to Jonathan, but she refuses, much to Dracula's dismay. Now aware that something other than plague is responsible for the death that has beset her once-peaceful town, Lucy desperately tries to convince the townspeople, but they are skeptical and uninterested. She finds that she can vanquish Dracula's evil by distracting him at dawn, but at the expense of her own life. She lures the Count to her bedroom, where he proceeds to drink her blood. ‎ Lucy's beauty and purity distract Dracula from the call of the rooster, and at the first light of day, he collapses to the floor. Van Helsing arrives to discover Lucy, dead but victorious. He then drives a stake through the heart of the Count to make sure Lucy's sacrifice was not in vain. In a final, chilling twist, Jonathan Harker awakes from his sickness, now a vampire, and arranges for Van Helsing's arrest. He is last seen traveling away on horseback, stating enigmatically that he has much to do.



While Nosferatu the Vampyre's basic story is derived from Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, director Werner Herzog made the 1979 film primarily as an homage remake of F. W. Murnau's seminal silent film, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), which differs somewhat from Stoker's original work. The makers of the earlier film could not obtain the rights for a film adaptation of Dracula, so they changed a number of minor details and character names in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid copyright infringement on the intellectual property owned (at the time) by Stoker's widow. A lawsuit was filed, resulting in an order for the destruction of all prints of the film. Some prints survived, and were restored after Florence Stoker had died and the copyright had expired.[5] By the 1960s and early 1970s, the original silent returned and was enjoyed by a new generation of movie goers.

Herzog considered Murnau's Nosferatu to be the greatest film ever to come out of Germany,[6] and was keen to make his own version of the film, with Klaus Kinski in the leading role. In 1979, by which time the copyright for Dracula had entered the public domain, Herzog proceeded with his updated version of the classic German film, which could now include the original character names. Strangely, however, Jonathan Harker's wife was named 'Lucy Harker', even though her name was Mina in the original novel, and a woman named 'Lucy' was a friend of Mina's. Herzog's production reverses these roles.


Nosferatu the Vampyre was co-produced by Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, Gaumont and ZDF. As was common for German films during the 1970s, Nosferatu the Vampyre was filmed on a minimal budget, and with a crew of just 16 people. Herzog could not film in Wismar, where the original Murnau film was shot, so he relocated production to Delft, Netherlands.[1] Parts of the film were shot in nearby Schiedam, after Delft authorities refused to allow Herzog to release 11,000 rats for a scene in the film.[6] Dracula's home is represented by locations in Czechoslovakia.

At the request of distributor 20th Century Fox, Herzog produced two versions of the movie simultaneously, to appeal to western audiences. Scenes with dialogue were filmed twice, in German and in English, meaning that the actor's own voices (as opposed to dubbed dialogue by voice actors) could be included in the English version of the film. However, many consider the performances in the German language version to be superior,[7] as Kinski and Ganz could act more confidently in their native language.

Dutch behavioral biologist Maarten 't Hart, hired by Herzog for his expertise of laboratory rats, revealed that, after witnessing the inhumane way in which the rats were treated, he no longer wished to cooperate. Apart from travelling conditions that were so poor that the rats, imported from Hungary, had started to eat each other upon arrival in the Netherlands, Herzog insisted the plain white rats be dyed gray. In order to do so, according to 't Hart, the cages containing the rats needed to be submerged in boiling water for several seconds, causing another half of them to die. The surviving rats proceeded to lick themselves clean of the dye immediately, as 't Hart had predicted they would. 't Hart also implies sheep and horses that appear in the movie were treated very poorly, but does not specify this any further.[8]

The opening sequence of the film, set to music by Popol Vuh, was filmed by Herzog himself at the Mummies of Guanajuato museum, Guanajuato, Mexico, where a large number of naturally mummified bodies of the victims of an 1833 cholera epidemic are on public display. Herzog had first seen the Guanajuato mummies while visiting in the 1960s. On his return in the 1970s he took the corpses out of the glass cases in which they are normally stored. To film them, he propped them against a wall, arranging them in a sequence running roughly from childhood to old age.[9]

Herzog's production maintained an element of horror, with numerous deaths and a grim atmosphere, but it features a more expanded plot than many Dracula productions, with a greater emphasis on the vampire's tragic loneliness.[10] Dracula is still a ghastly figure, but with a greater sense of pathos; weary, unloved, and doomed to immortality. The difference between this movie and other vampire films like Blacula and The Fearless Vampire Killers was that Herzog was determined to divorce himself and the movie from the campy, humorous elements in vampire films and emphasize a serious approach leading to tragedy, along with adding in the vampire's disgust with being a predator.

Klaus Kinski's Dracula make-up, with black costume, bald head, rat-like teeth and long fingernails, is an imitation of Max Schreck's makeup in the 1922 original. The makeup artist who worked on Kinski was Japanese artist Reiko Kruk. Although he combated other people and Herzog during the making of other films, Kinski got along wth Kruk and the four-hour makeup sessions went on with no outbursts from Kinski himself. A number of shots in the film are faithful recreations of iconic shots from Murnau's original film, some almost perfectly identical to their counterparts, but this was done as homage rather than imitation.[11]

Music for the film was from the album Brüder des Schattens – Söhne des Lichts by the German group Popol Vuh, who have collaborated with Herzog on numerous projects. The behind the scenes featurette on the 2001 Anchor Bay 2-disc DVD release shows work in progress footage of some scenes not in the final cut of the movie, including a cameo from director Werner Herzog.


The film was released as Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht in German and Nosferatu the Vampyre in English. It was entered into the 29th Berlin International Film Festival, where production designer Henning von Gierke won the Silver Bear for an outstanding single achievement.[12]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes indicates that the film is highly regarded today, having a rating of 96%. Reviewer John J. Puccio of DVDTown considers it a faithful homage to Murnau's original film, significantly updating the original material, and avoiding the danger of being overly derivative.[13]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "An Adaptation With Fangs by Garrett Chaffin-Quiray". Kinoeye. Retrieved 2007-01-30. 
  2. "Frames 'n' friends by Amulya Nagaraj". The Hindu. Retrieved 2007-01-30. 
  5. "Nosferatu". Silent Movie Monsters. Archived from the original on 2006-12-16. Retrieved 2007-01-30. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Fruits of Anger - Werner Herzog on Nosferatu". Retrieved 2007-01-30. 
  7. "Nosferatu". Retrieved 2008-05-29. 
  8. Maarten 't Hart in Zomergasten, VPRO, 2010-08-01
  9. Prawer, Siegbert Salomon (2004). Nosferatu–Phantom der Nacht. British Film Institute. p. 41. ISBN 9781844570317. 
  10. "Nosferatu The Vampyre by David Keyes". Retrieved 2007-01-30. 
  11. "Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht by Walter Chaw". Retrieved 2007-01-30. 
  12. "Berlinale 1978: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2010-08-15. 
  13. "Nosferatu the Vampyre by John J. Puccio". Retrieved 2007-01-30. [dead link]

External linksEdit

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