Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Nosferatu in Venice (1988)

Nosferatu in Venice (AKA Vampires in Venice) is a kind of sequel to Werner Herzog’s superb 1979 Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht with Klaus Kinski returning as the vampire. Herzog’s movie had been a kind of remake of F.W. Murnau’s classic 1922 Nosferatu which was of course an unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

By 1988 Klaus Kinski was so far out of control that even Werner Herzog had decided he couldn’t work with him any longer.

Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht had been a major hit so a sequel seemed like a very good idea. With Kinski on board it turned into a nightmare of chaos for everyone involved. Directors came and went. Firing Kinski seemed like a good solution but the distributors insisted (probably correctly) that it was Kinski who was going to be the film’s main drawcard at the box office so therefore there was no way he could be fired.

The result is chaotic but somehow it works. And it has to be said that mostly it works because Kinski delivers the goods.

This is essentially another reworking of Stoker’s novel but in a contemporary setting.

A Venetian noblewoman calls in the famed vampirologist Professor Paris Catalano (Christopher Plummer). In 1786 terrible things happened in the family’s villa in Venice. Venice was afflicted by a plague but even worse horrors were perpetrated by a vampire. Catalano insists that the vampire is now safely at the bottom of the sea, the ship in which he was travelling having foundered in 1786. The elderly princess thinks the vampire is still around. Catalano soon has cause to agree with her.

He suspects that a member of the family, the beautiful Helietta Canins (Barbara de Rossi), is not only the descendant of a vampire but may be a vampire herself, or susceptible to vampirism.

The worst thing anyone could do at this point is to conduct a séance but that’s what somebody does. And the vampire (Kinski) is revived.

Catalano is the van Helsing character but he proves to be ill-equipped to fight vampires. He does however contribute one piece of advice. There is one way to destroy the vampire. If an innocent virgin gives herself voluntarily to him then at the moment he deflowers her he will be destroyed. Of course the problem is that innocent virgins willing to be deflowered by vampires aren’t all that plentiful. They’re like policemen. They’re never around when you need them.

For this Kinski announced that he had no intention of putting up with spending hours in the makeup chair. He said he could play the rôle with no makeup at all. Kinski was probably right. He has no trouble at all looking creepy and scary without makeup.

It also has the advantage that it makes the vampire look much more dangerous and more sexy. And this is a very sexual vampire. Which is fine, since all vampire stories and vampire movies are essentially about sex. Vampires represent unrepressed uncontrolled sexuality. And in this case, whenever Nosferatu pursues a victim (and as in Stoker’s novel his victims are always female) it’s made fairly clear that he rapes his victims as well as drinking their blood.

Playing the rôle without makeup obviously means that Kinski doesn’t look anything like the vampire he played in Herzog’s movie even though he’s supposed to be the same vampire. But the secret to enjoying Nosferatu in Venice is to avoid the temptation to compare it to the earlier movie and just approach it as an entirely separate movie.

The problem I’ve always had with vampires is that they seem very vulnerable. Sunlight kills them, they can’t go near garlic, they’re terrified of religious symbols, they’re incredibly vulnerable while they sleep during the day. I usually find myself rooting for the vampires because I feel feel that the odds are stacked against them. This however is a much more formidable vampire. He isn’t bothered by sunlight. He simply ignores religious symbols. He only sleeps once every twenty-four days. He has considerable supernatural powers. In this case the odds are heavily stacked against the vampire hunters.

That should make the vampire less sympathetic but over the course of the movie we discover that this is a vampire who is capable of feeling emotions. He can feel sorrow, regret, even love. The movie becomes almost a weird kind of love story, centring on that innocent virgin I mentioned earlier.

Severin’s release offers a very fine transfer plus a feature-length documentary of Kinski’s unbelievably deranged final years.

Any movie with Klaus Kinski as its star is going to end up with a slightly strange chaotic feel to it but his performance is extraordinary and on the whole this is an unconventional vampire movie that works. Highly recommended.

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