What compelled one of the world’s great filmmakers to ‘revamp’ FW Murnau’s silent classic in 1979 is a mystery. We know Werner Herzog was a fan of the film, but that’s a weak pretext for such a lavish remake. Unusually for this most idiosyncratic of directors, Herzog brings little of his own personality to proceedings: the story is largely unchanged (though the debt to Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ is more openly acknowledged than in Murnau’s version), and besides the occasional dip into philosophical territory (‘the absence of love is the most abject pain!’ hisses Klaus Kinski’s fanged, leathery count) the script is largely functional.
There are lovely moments – the Carpathian landscapes are stunning, Kinski’s performance is compellingly vile, and it ends with a stirringly weird, Fellini-esque plague festival. But some of Herzog’s choices are simply confounding: Isabelle Adjani has nothing to do except look pale and worried, Walter Ladengast’s Van Helsing is so decrepit as to border on pastiche, and there’s a grey, plodding quality to the film which sidesteps oppressive, doom-laden inevitability and goes straight to slightly dull.