Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437

It is to rescue Dracula from the defilements of high camp that Werner Herzog has … made his own Nosferatu. Herzog wants to restore Murnau's film to its rightful place in movie history, so he has remade the Murnau version scene by scene…. This is not to say that Herzog has no ideas of his own. Where his film departs from Murnau's, it is in the direction of naturalizing, even humanizing, the Dracula character. (p. 17)

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At the same time that he is trying to revive the Dracula legend, Herzog is trying to make us sense its lost power. We should be able to understand, he is suggesting, how compelling a figure Dracula was in a world where death could take such an inexplicable and irresistible form as the plague. Dracula answered a human need which we may have yet, but no longer recognize.

Herzog has naturalized Murnau's Dracula in other ways, too. The over-use of special effects and trick photography in Dracula films came after Murnau, who employed them only to a limited extent. Herzog makes almost no use of them. As a consequence his Dracula seems, though always a creature separate and distinct from human beings, still subject to the world in which they live. He is not the mere ghost that Murnau's film sometimes makes him. (pp. 17-18)

At moments … Herzog succeeds in making Dracula a richly paradoxical creature. On the one hand, Herzog's film restores the immutable otherness of Dracula as Murnau conceived him. He is no longer the chameleon character of the Hollywood tradition, the oily, familiar villain in a Victorian melodrama. On the other hand, he is not quite the ethereal being that Murnau made him either. He is in his strangeness a more pathetic figure. He is world-weary. We understand his premonition that, because he will live on in a modern world with an insufficient sense of evil, he will outlive his own glory.

The beauty of Herzog's film is that it makes no apology for Dracula. It isn't embarrassed by him. It doesn't cringe when the figure he cuts becomes a ridiculous and laughable one. Unlike other recent filmmakers, Herzog feels no need to make a spoof out of the Dracula legend, to show his modern superiority to it. His treatment of it is "innocent," as he himself has said. The result is that he has made the best Dracula film since Murnau, and maybe the best ever. (p. 18)

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr., "An 'Innocent' Dracula: Myth Rather Than Melodrama," in Commonweal (copyright © 1980 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. CVII, No. 1, January 18, 1980, pp. 16-18.

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