By ROCCO T. THOMPSON
Starring Klaus Kinski, Barbara De Rossi, Yorgo Voyagis
Directed by Augusto Caminito, Maurizio Lucidi, Luigi Cozzi, Mario Caiano
Written by Augusto Caminito
Venice is a fascinating city, not just for its unique network of bridges and canals, its rich history as a medieval center of commerce, or its stunning rococo-style architecture, but especially for the way it’s captured the imaginations of filmmakers. The most arresting onscreen treatments of the city distill its particular haunting quality: Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice, a tale of transgressive obsession, sees a mysterious plague ravaging the empty courtyards; in Nicolas Roeg’s horrific Don’t Look Now, the disorienting, choked streets mirror the hollow sense of devastation and paranoia that besets a grieving couple after the tragic loss of their young daughter. Similarly, NOSFERATU IN VENICE (a.k.a. VAMPIRE IN VENICE) shows the city at its eeriest, casting it as a floating tomb that provides the ideal home for Klaus Kinski’s titular bloodsucker.
Well, not exactly the titular bloodsucker. NOSFERATU IN VENICE was, in typical Italian fashion, intended as a rip-off sequel to Werner Herzog’s magnificent Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) in which Kinski brilliantly assumed the role originally played by Max Schreck in 1922. Kinski agreed to the terms of the shoot, but upon his arrival on set (after producers had shelled out a hefty chunk of change to shoot footage during the city’s Carnival festival with a bald-capped, pointy-eared stand-in) the famously impossible actor refused to wear the iconic getup. This was just the first in a series of disasters that Kinski would bring to the production, which tore through four separate directors before the film limped to screens in 1988.
The plot concerns Helietta Canins (Barbara De Rossi), a Venetian noblewoman whose bloodline is inextricably linked to Nosferatu, the immortal agent of evil who was last reportedly seen during the Carnival celebrations of 1786. When Professor Paris Catalano (Christopher Plummer) comes to stay with the family while searching for the resting place of the vampire, a séance awakens the demonic figure from a 200-year sleep, drawing him to Venice and Helietta, who may or may not be the reincarnation of his long lost love, Letizia.
Though the work of four separate directors (and, reportedly, an uncredited Kinski) NOSFERATU IN VENICE’s reputation as an incoherent and piecemeal affair has been overblown. Don’t get it twisted: the film is nonsensical and often hard to follow, but so is the vast majority of Italian horror cinema. In reality, anyone enamored with the works of Fulci, Mattei, or Lenzi will find plenty to love here, though I won’t go so far as to say that the film is on anywhere near the same level as the Herzog masterwork that inspired it. The inclusion of Plummer and Donald Pleasence gives the project an air of respectability, but, at its heart, NOSFERATU IN VENICE is as tawdry as they come. Pleasance is almost comically misused and though Plummer fares better, he literally disappears from the film as if blinked out of existence. Was this scripted? Did he too walk, having had enough of Kinski’s shenanigans? It hardly matters, because the picture belongs to the cantankerous German actor, who brings his considerable gravitas (though obviously not any measure of professionalism) to his penultimate role. Decked out more like an aging, jabot-throated rocker than the expected naked-pated vermin, (think of a wrinkled Lestat) Kinski is a commanding presence even with his best work past him.
The real draw here, as previously mentioned, is Venice, itself. Photographed by Tonino Nardi, the city has never appeared more frightening or near-apocalyptic. Drawing upon Venice’s plague-time history for its plot and aura, NOSFERATU IN VENICE boasts a penetrating atmosphere of death and decay with billowing vapor, chipped frescos, and chilly daytime sunlight that characterize the entire city as a lonesome, waterlogged husk of a once vibrant medieval port – the perfect hunting ground for an ages old vampire that the film fittingly refers to as the, “high priest of putridity.”
Severin Films presents NOSFERATU IN VENICE with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1 for its worldwide Blu-ray premiere, which is scanned in 2k from the original negative. This is an all around great transfer, with consistent detail and a lush color palette, even in more darkly lit scenes. There is a strange moment that utilizes frames that appear spliced from a lesser quality source, perhaps a VHS, but damage and debris are minimal, save for a hilariously conspicuous hair that makes a smooth journey across the frame in the pre-credits sequence.
The disc’s main extra is a feature-length documentary, Creation is Violent – Anecdotes From Kinski’s Final Years. The word “documentary” comes with air quotes, as this is more a loose assemblage of interviews with cast and crew members who were lucky/unlucky enough to encounter Klaus Kinski during the “height of his madness” before his sudden death in 1991. This is truly fascinating watching and many of the stories are pearl-clutchingly shocking, especially those recounted by the actor’s female costars who suffered near constant sexual harassment while on set. Though great for those with foreknowledge of Kinski, newbies may find the interviews a little perplexing, but they’re sure to wet anyone’s appetite to learn more about the mad movie icon. The disc also includes a couple of additional cast & crew Interviews and a trailer. This release notably lacks a commentary, which is a shame, as a film of this stripe basically begs for a good Kat Ellinger track to give it some context and critical appreciation. Purchasing directly from Severin will land you an exclusive NOSFERATU IN VENICE slipcover. There’s also NOSFERATU IN VENICE bundle that comes with the film, an enamel pin, art print, poster, and “floaty vampire” pen that’s worth a look!
Severin Films has given the oft-maligned and long-forgotten hole in Klaus Kinski’s filmography, NOSFERATU IN VENICE, the five star treatment. A patchwork effort shaped as much by Klaus Kinski’s incendiary personality as the handful of directors who tried (and failed) to harness it, the film is still a haunting vision of a floating underworld of rotten opulence that manages to walk the razor’s edge between art and schlock. The feature length collection of interviews on the disc is a highly enjoyable and essential chronicle of Kinski’s final years, but the absence of a solid commentary is noticeable Still, NOSFERATU IN VENICE is one of Severin’s most impressive and intriguing releases so far this year.
NOSFERATU IN VENICE is now available at severin-films.com.