Werner Herzog Harlan Kennedy - Essay

Harlan Kennedy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Nosferatu] is perhaps the most circumspect, least red-blooded Dracula movie ever made. Herzog's visionary madness needs room to whirl and gesticulate, but here he has straitjacketed himself in his respect for Murnau's 1922 vampire classic. The film is like a silent movie with the titles missing. Individual scenes are full of magic, but there is nothing to propel the story forward.

Herzog scatters the film early on with promising thematic motifs and images, especially when Bruno Ganz's Transylvania-bound hero approaches the Land of Silence and Darkness in which Nosferatu lives, and when the still canals of the Nordic town he has left are exchanged for rushing rivers and sounding cataracts. But once the action returns to "Wismar" on the Baltic, the languid, azure-hued beauty of the film's surface and a lack of aim or urgency in the editing rob the story of surprise and momentum.

Klaus Kinski as Nosferatu looks magnificent—bald, bony head, bat-wing ears, rat teeth. And he speaks with a fetching, Peter Lorre-like purr. But until Isabelle Adjani's climactic death, there is little bloodletting. What the film surely needed was at least one moment of terror early on, in which the vampire's awesome powers are seen in action rather than taken on trust. (p. 65)

Harlan Kennedy, "Berlin: I. The Festival," in American Film (reprinted with permission from the May issue of American Film Magazine; © 1979, The American Film Institute, J. F. Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. 20566), Vol. IV, No. 7, May, 1979, pp. 64-6.