Welcome back, boys and ghouls, to Haunted MTL’s Notes from The Last Drive-In. This week Joe Bob Briggs and Darcy the Mail Girl get a little German with a pair of horror classics. Jawhol! We have been treated to 1922’s Nosferatu and 1979’s Nosferatu the Vampyre.
But how was the show this week? Did the episode’s theme click a bit better than the previous two episodes? Let’s find out with this review and recap of Shudder’s The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, season 4, episode 4.
Nosferatu is F.W. Murnau’s 1922 vampire horror film that loosely adapts Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel Dracula. The film is a silent German expressionist horror film that stars Max Schreck, Greta Schröder, and Gustav von Wangenheim. The film, set in 1838, follows estate agent Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), who travels to Transylvania to secure the final documents allowing for client Count Orlock (Max Schreck). Orlock seeks to move to Wisborg into a house across the street from Hutter’s, where his wife Ellen (Greta Schröder) awaits his return.
In many ways, the idea of reviewing Nosferatu is pointless because the film has been dissected and evaluated to undeath for over a century now. Thanks to copyright law, the film is widely distributed and can even be found, fully embedded, in its own Wikipedia entry. I am not sure how much I could add to the discourse surrounding the film beyond what has already been said for a hundred years.
I do not think Nosferatu is a perfect film. It can be pretty close at times, but the film we see these days reconstructs something we’ll never be able to truly experience again, cobbled together from salvaged prints. Florence Stoker’s irreparable harm to the preservation of the art is well documented. As a result, we’ll never quite capture the fundamental, ethereal experience of what Nosferatu was. Nosferatu isn’t quite a Dracula adaptation, and yet it is, occupying a strange and uncanny space between adaptation and parody that does not entirely succeed in either direction. However, the middleness of the film allows it to work as well as it does. The story may not be as complex as Stoker’s own, but neither is it as messy. This is the Laconic Dracula, boiled down to the essentials, warts and all.
The character of Thomas Hutter is useless in the film beyond being a plot device. The real struggle is between Ellen and Orlock, but even that goes a metaphysical route that is somewhat sloppily handled. With that said, Schröder and Shreck are excellent in their respective roles. While the story has many weaknesses, it is the elements in telling the story where the film makes its mark.
F.W. Murnau’s direction is terrific. His work with his cinematographers Fritz Arno Wagner and Günther Krampf resulted in a film that, despite its antiquity, feels modern in so many regards, codifying cinematography and staging we still see centuries later. Cross-cutting alone in this film is impressive in what it does for the pacing.
Of course, the film still occupies that rough, transitionary period between the film as its form and the film as a form of recorded play; some performances are overly broad. Some shots are treated flat, stage-like, such as the finale in Ellen’s bedroom. But these are the last vestiges of a bygone era.
I could talk about many aspects of Nosferatu, but it’s all been done before to such a degree that I can probably link this NY Times article that would cover a lot of what I would say.
Joe Bob-servations on Nosferatu (1922)
Joe Bob’s approach to the night was more of a history crash course than usual. This was even down to the fashion choices of Joe Bob Briggs and Darcy the Mail Girl, decked out for a time in Neidermyer clothing, only for Joe Bob to slider progressively further into “pimp” as the night progressed.
If the night had a phrase representing the tone, it would have been “Fuck Florence Stoker,” given her role in nearly wiping away a cinema classic from history. The host segments revolved around the history of German film, a heady topic for most nights. We also dove into Joe Bob’s views on German Expressionism and the film’s legacy. With that said, Joe Bob’s thoughts on whether Nosferatu is a German Expressionist film seem counter to the established view. I wonder if he may be going against the grain to ruffle the feathers of film nerds.
The skit involving a silent film-style seance to contact the cast of the film goes predictably off the rails with the addition of John Brennan and concludes with Darcy biting the neck of Joe Bob. So it was what you would expect for the Drive-In‘s take on a silent film, goofy and affectionate. It wasn’t the best skit of the night, either, which was most impressive about the night as a whole. The best skit belonged to the second film of the night: Nosferatu the Vampyre.
Final Thoughts on Nosferatu (1922)
A cinema classic that is more than a movie, Nosferatu is a captivating work by F.W. Murnau that, despite some issues, still stands as a beautiful and creepy film 100 years after release. The fact we can even enjoy an approximation of the original experience today is not something one should take for granted.
Joe Bob gave the film four stars, which is well deserved. The film is every bit as praiseworthy as it gets. I feel some elements of the film, holdovers from earlier conceptions of what film was, that make Nosferatu a transitionary piece, and some of those legacy elements left in place run counter to the innovation of the film overall. I would give Nosferatu four-and-a-half out of five Cthulhus.(4.5 / 5)
Best Line: “Nosferatu. Does this word not sound like the midnight call of the Bird of Death? Do not utter it, or the images of life will fade – into pale shadows and ghostly dreams will rise from your heart and feed your Blood.” – Title Card
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Werner Herzog did something that many would consider unthinkable in 1979, and no, it was not remaking 1922’s Nosferatu; it was making a better version. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night), known as Nosferatu the Vampyre today, is one of those rarified films where the remake outshines the original. Written and directed by Werner Herzog, this German horror film is a stylized remake of F.W. Murnau’s original and seemingly amalgamated the texts of Nosferatu and Dracula into something arguably different. The film stars Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz, and Roland Topor.
The plot is similar to that of the 1922 film but expanded upon with a new ending and extended sequences of travel.
And yes, while there is a German version and an English version, I suggest the German version. Subtitles will not hurt you.
So, this may be a controversial statement. I prefer this remake of Nosferatu to the original, and I think what Werner Herzog achieved in the film is faithful to the spirit and structure of the 1922 film and filled it in, adding and embellishing in the right spots to make the movie feel more whole. I am sure this will get me in trouble, but Nosferatu (1922) is the outline, whereas Nosferatu the Vampyre is the final draft. The film takes more directly from Dracula than the original, using the actual names of characters from the novel. Instead of Count Orlock, we have Count Dracula and our Jonathan Harker. Not everything is one-to-one; we get a combination of the characters of Lucy and Mina from the novel as a way to condense the film.
Frequent Herzog collaborator Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein’s cinematography is outstanding. The interplay of light and darkness within the film unsurprisingly reflects the struggle of the humans against the demonic vampire. It gives the film the shadowy appearance as a throwback to the high contrast of the 1922 prints. The film also has a strong eye toward places, with the natural landscapes of the Balkans serving as a stunning and creepy indication of how out of his depth Harker is. The city of Wismar in the film is often torn between being a lovely sight of civilization and one of utter menace; all it takes is a change of angle and lighting. The castle, an external ruin but an internal maze, becomes a character itself.
The score, handled by musical collective Popol Vuh is eerie and fitting and plays wonderfully set to the intercutting journeys between Harker and Dracula. The usage of the Georgian folk song “Tsintskaro” may not make sense at first, but when heard in the film becomes clear.
The performances across the board are excellent; in the time since Nosferatu, acting in the film had become more naturalistic. Klaus Kinski is fantastic as Count Dracula. His moments of conflict with Isabelle Adjani’s Lucy, a carryover from the original film, are some of the most compelling aspects of the film. Even the third wheel, Harker, in this version, has a somewhat more active role in the movie but never quite steps in the way of the focus: Dracula and Lucy. Hell, even the ESP-type connection between them makes a little more sense.
Joe Bob-servations on Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
There were a great many anecdotes and jokes about the wacky world of Werner Herzog during the host segments. All of them were very much appreciated by me, as someone who has a great deal of fascination with the filmmaker. This inevitably culminated with a rather epic and long skit full of Herzogisms about the nature of beer, the drive-in, and the universe itself. Austin Jennings did a fantastic job with his Herzog impression and the direction of the associated imagery. It was an incredible moment and possibly my favorite skit on the show ever.
The anecdotes on Herzog and the making of the film were, of course, fantastic. The “frenemy” relationship between Herzog and Klaus Kinski resulted in several hilarious and strange stories shared during the night, including the possible desecration of real mummies. In truth, Herzog should be a guest on the show. It doesn’t even need to be one of his movies. A conversation between Herzog and Briggs would be legendary.
Final Thoughts on Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre is a richer film than Nosferatu. It fills the gaps within the original and uses the evolving language of film to do what I think F.W. Murnau would have done had the technology and understanding of cinema of 1979 been available to him in 1922. This might best be exemplified by the film’s opening credits, depicting mummies. They have little to do with the film itself, but if we’re aiming for Expressionism, the howling expressions of the desiccated dead do a lot to set the movie’s tone as a whole.
I’ve not even mentioned that this film has recorded dialogue as opposed to the silent nature of the 1922 version because I believe a silent-film edit of Herzog’s version would be on par with or better than Murnau’s.
Joe Bob Briggs gave the film four stars. I agree. I would give Nosferatu the Vampyre five out of five Cthulhus.(5 / 5)
Best Line: “The absence of love is the most abject pain.” – Count Dracula
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
We have our official totals from Shudder, as usual.
As for our totals, we have:
- 1 Joe Bob Cosplay
- 2 Darcy Cosplay
- 7 Crash landings by Murnau
- 4 utterances of “thee-ate-er”
- 11,000 Rats
- $896 Thousand Budget
- Giggling Madmen
- Crew Butchery
- Actor Blinding
- Rat Die Fu
- Seance Fu
- Pimp Joe Bob
- Gratuitous Herzogisms
- Pimp Shoes
- Vampire Joking
- Turtle Joking
Episode Score for The Last Drive-In: S4E4 – Nosferatu and Nosferatu the Vampyre
This is one of the best nights we’ve had on the show. Easily in the top five for me. I know I have been a bit critical of the theming of the past two episodes, but the show bounced back excellently this week. It was almost as though this pairing was tailored specifically for me and my style of vampire story. Overall it was an amazing night, and Joe Bob, Darcy, John, and Austin assembled something special.
It was a fitting tribute to one of cinema’s earliest and most distinct monsters, and he is still as scary as he was a century ago. I would give this episode five out of five Cthulhus.(5 / 5)
With that, we are done until next time. Please join us again next week for another review and recap. What did you think, though? Why not share your thoughts in the comments about the show and the two films shown. Did you have a favorite?
Want more of the Vampyre?
Please do yourself a favor and use our sponsored link to pick up a copy of Shadow of the Vampire (2001), an excellent companion piece to the films covered in this article.