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{Blu-ray Review} A Macabre Journey: Nosferatu in Venice (1988)

“It’s bad luck to kill a bat.”

Nosferatu in Venice

Also known as Vampires in Venice and Prince of the Night, Nosferatu in Venice is the kind of movie that begs for a booklet, of the sort that Arrow routinely packs into their Blu-rays. Sadly, fans of the flick coming to this Severin disc, scanned to Blu for the first time in 2K from the original film negative, will have to make do with a new feature-length documentary on star Klaus Kinski and the disc’s other bonus features.

Released in 1988, Nosferatu in Venice is nominally an unofficial sequel to Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake of Nosferatu, itself a rehash of the 1922 film that was already an unofficial adaptation of Dracula. Kinski reprises his role from that film, though a decade later – and just three years before his death – he looks less like that film’s rat-faced creature of the night and more like a dissolute version of David Bowie’s Goblin King from Labyrinth after five miles of bad road. (Kinski reportedly refused to wear a version of his old Nosferatu makeup for this go-round.)

A notorious and controversial figure throughout his life, Kinski’s antics on the set of Nosferatu in Venice are the stuff of legend, and both Wikipedia and the back of the box go so far as to hand him an unceremonious co-director credit on the finished film. In fact, according to second unit director Luigi Cozzi (who also handled second unit duties on Argento’s Two Evil Eyes and The Stendhal Syndrome, as well as directing Paganini Horror and others), Kinski’s on-set behavior was so erratic that the entire crew walked off until he apologized.

Also, rumor has it that some of the sequences of Kinski ravishing his female co-stars crossed the lines from scripted sensuality to actual sexual assault, captured on camera and, at times, possibly included in the final cut of the film. I’d have to dig deeper to know the truth of that and, honestly, having already watched the movie, I don’t really want to know. But it certainly doesn’t seem outside the bounds of credibility.

Kinski wasn’t the only hitch in the troubled production history of Nosferatu in Venice, however. The film went through no less than five potential directors, some of them working for only a short time, others being given the boot before they even got behind the camera. (To be fair, Kinski is credited with at least one of those departures, that of Mario Caiano, director of Nightmare Castle and Eye in the Labyrinth.)

Ultimately, it was writer/producer Augusto Caminito who received the on-screen directing credit, though even he reportedly had to concede, after six weeks of shooting, that the project was done, even if he didn’t have all the footage he needed and had to cobble the finished product together from what he had.

To say that Nosferatu in Venice is a movie that feels like the work of five different directors – a movie whose plot took shape in the cutting room, rather than on the page – sounds dismissive, and it certainly is a criticism, but in some ways it is also orthogonal (at worst) to the places where the film succeeds. This is a dreamy, languid, horny movie that makes the most of the damp, decaying grandeur of its Venetian setting, and the score (by Luigi Ceccarelli and Vangelis, the latter perhaps best known to cinephiles for the soundtrack to Blade Runner) helps the film’s most pedestrian moments feel freighted with significance.

If it also feels like scenes from half-a-dozen different films – all with mostly the same characters and mostly similar plots – cut together with a score alone trying to beat it into one identifiable shape, well, that’s probably not far off.

Was Christopher Plummer’s Van Helsing-alike always going to fail and simply disappear into the fog in disgrace? Was Donald Pleasance always going to make his exit vainly shouting after him about being the guardian of the soul or some such, in a now-depopulated house? Was Kinski’s vampire – now apparently named Nosferatu – always going to end the film carrying a naked woman into the mist? Who knows, but it all seems to fit with the picture’s fractured, decaying, and ultimately doomed tone.

This is a film where very little is accomplished, either by the vampire or against him. It’s a film where new segments of vampire lore are added in willy-nilly, where people have flashbacks to things that happened hundreds of years before they were born, and where scenes of the vampire’s previous escapades are shown like clips from a movie that doesn’t actually exist. It’s a film that reuses pretty much its only high-impact kill scene, and one where a coffin bound in iron bands proves to be a red herring.

Which is all a long way of saying that this isn’t a movie for the casual fan nor the uninitiated. This a release designed for those who follow this sort of thing, for whom the idea of a movie so notoriously plagued by production difficulties is a draw, rather than a warning. For devotees of Italian cinema of a certain era, of Klaus Kinski’s off-kilter performances, of the combination of dreamy cinematography and copious blood and nudity that so defined these sorts of pictures.

If that’s you, well, the Severin Blu-ray is about the only way to get this odd flick, and it’s available now.

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