Nosferatu in Venice (1988)

MARCH 14, 2021


I recently revisited the 1979 Nosferatu at a drive-in screening, which is a weird venue for that particular film (it was paired with Ulli Lommel's even more bizarre The Tenderness of Wolves, so... wacky night!) as even after a year of it being my only moviegoing option, I still think of the drive-in as something suited for B-movies, not something one might deem "artsy". If I had known of its existence at the time, I might have wondered why they weren't showing Nosferatu in Venice (aka Vampire in Venice), the Italian produced "sequel" that brings back Klaus Kinski as the title character and absolutely nothing else.

In fact it doesn't even really bring back the same Kinski incarnation, as the notoriously difficult actor refused to deal with the makeup again. So apart from an occasional fang shot, we don't really get "Nosferatu" but simply Klaus Kinski wandering around Venice, doing things like kicking at the fences separating him from angry dogs, taking silent gondola rides just as dawn breaks, and having graphic sex. On occasion he shows off his superpowers, including a great bit where a guy shotguns him and we see through the massive hole (which then closes up), or tricking people into thinking he is someone else (or that they are him), but despite his top billing there are large chunks without him (he only appears I think once in the first half hour). Even if he had donned the makeup, I can understand that a fan would feel pretty ripped off by his limited appearance.

The actual lead of the film is Christopher Plummer (given the "and" credit!) as Catalano, a sort of Van Helsing standin (Plummer would play an actual Van Helsing in Dracula 2000, so this is like a trial run) who has tracked Nosferatu to Venice and seeks to destroy him once and for all. But, best I can tell from his scattered scenes, Nosferatu himself wants to be dead, having tired of immortality. At least that's how I interpreted it, as even by '80s Italian horror standards the movie doesn't make a lot of sense, something that was probably never the case but certainly made worse by the fact that they never finished shooting all of it (it was also shot a few years before finally being released). A documentary about Kinski called Creation is Violent is included on the disc, and it explains a lot about the movie's issues.

In fact the documentary (which is feature length) should be required viewing for anyone who watches the film, as it not only helps explain why it's so "off" but also adds some illuminating context to a few scenes. One key bit of hilarious trivia is that the production team decided to film lots of footage at the local Carnival, which took place months before Kinski was scheduled to arrive. So they used a double in the traditional Nosferatu makeup and created some exciting scenes with all that free production value, but when Kinski decided he would not be donning the makeup again, they had to toss almost all of it out, as it wouldn't match. But they didn't let it all go to waste, so occasionally they just cut to people celebrating in between scenes, even though the majority of the movie takes place in those same streets that are otherwise empty.

Here we also learn that a lot of that random footage of Kinski just sort of aimlessly wandering around Venice was directed by the actor himself, who kept complaining about the revolving directors on the shoot (there were, I believe, five when all was said and done). To get him to shut up for a bit, the producer gave him a camera and an operator and told him to go shoot whatever he liked. Apparently he shot around two hours of footage, of which Kinski handpicked around twenty minutes that could be used and the film ultimately included about 90 seconds or so of it. This caused a drain on the budget since all that film had to be processed and such; you get the idea Kinski would have thrived in a digital filmmaking world, but alas (?) he died in 1991.

So when you take all that information in and watch the movie again, realizing it's not by some unexplained design, it ends up in the "better than you'd expect" category. With Kinski's behavior and the constant change of directors (and again, a shoot that was never actually completed), it's surprising that the movie is even watchable, but it manages to overcome most of its messiness and become kind of mesmerizing in its own way, not unlike the original. Even without the makeup, the film ends up sharing a number of qualities with Herzog's take, and so what if it's accidental? Plummer's intro, for example, lasts several minutes as he rides as a gondola through the canals up to where he's staying (a church run by Donald Pleasence, who is largely kind of subdued here), and the music - by Vangelis! - droning on feels very much like a sequence from the earlier film, even if it was just a necessary bit of padding to make up for missing footage elsewhere.

But it's also got some of that 80s Italian wackiness you'd probably want, including a few ridiculous impalement deaths and out of nowhere things like belly dancers. I also nearly cried from laughing when Plummer just suddenly exits the movie before the climax, and no I don't mean he gets killed off. The character simply decides to leave, so the final showdown with Nosferatu comes down to a few random dudes whose grand plan is to shoot him with holy water bullets and then run away if/when it didn't work. They don't even cut back to Plummer arriving home or something; he just leaves and never looks back with 20 minutes of the movie left to go. It's kind of divine.

The Kinski doc (and a few deleted scenes from it, both of which focus on this film) is the only extra on Severin's disc, but that's not really surprising. And again, it's an essential doc if you're a fan of this film or even Kinski in general, as it mainly centers on his final years (including his sudden death at a time where he had apparently found peace) and features priceless anecdotes from some of his former collaborators (most of whom seem to have forgiven whatever insults/attacks he dished on them, but not all) as well as some interview footage where he's just rambling. I would suggest perhaps reading up on him if you're completely unaware of his transgressions, as they can be pretty ugly, but if you're already aware of what kind of person he was I think you'll find the doc highly engaging, not to mention a solid companion piece to the feature.

What say you?


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