Nosferatu in Venice Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: March 30, 2021
Audio: English and Italian DTS-HD Master 2.0 mono
Run Time: 93:07 minutes
Director: Augusto Caminito
Professor Paris Catalano (Christopher Plummer) travels to Venice to investigate sightings of the infamous vampire Nosferatu (Klaus Kinski), who hasn’t been seen since 1786.
Most cult movies are made on their actual content, others on their controversy and censorship histories, but there’s also a special class of film that earns its cult reputation based on convoluted tales of production hell. Based on how few people have actually seen it, Augusto Caminito’s Nosferatu in Venice (Italian: Nosferatu a Venezia; aka: Vampire in Venice and Prince of the Night, 1988) belongs in the latter category. Given the quality of the cast, including Klaus Kinski, Barbara De Rossi, Donald Pleasance, and Christopher Plummer, and its proximity to Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre (German: Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, 1979), Caminito’s film was always destined for a certain level of notoriety, but it was the largely Kinski-fueled behind-the-scenes nightmare that put it on most cult radars.
Designed as a direct sequel to Herzog’s film, which was itself an adaptation/reimagining of F. W. Murnau's 1922 silent chiller Nosferatu (German: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens) by screenwriters Carlo Alberto Alfieri & Leandro Lucchetti, the project was picked up by Augusto Caminito for his production studio Scena Films. Caminito had cut his teeth as a screenwriter on spaghetti westerns, including Maurizio Lucidi’s Halleluja for Django (Italian: La più grande rapina del West, 1967), Florestano Vancini’s Long Days of Vengeance (Italian: I lunghi giorni della vendetta, 1967), Giuseppe Vari’s The Last Killer (Italian: L'ultimo killer, 1967), and Giorgio Capitani’s The Ruthless Four (Italian: Ognuno per sé, 1968), but found greater success as a producer of mostly horror movies during a short-lived horror boom fueled by a healthy worldwide home-video market in the mid-’80s. He secured Kinski’s participation by promising to finance the actor’s dream project, a Paganini biopic, and handing over the keys to his personal Ferrari Testarossa.
Problems began after the first choice of director, Maurizio Lucidi (The Designated Victim [Italian: La vittima designata, 1971]), was replaced by Contamination (aka: Alien Contamination, 1980) director/Dario Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi. Cozzi stayed on as second unit director, but was himself replaced by Pasquale Squitieri (The Climber [Italian: L'ambizioso, 1975]), under whose leadership the scope and cast expanded, the script was rewritten, storyboards were drawn. Realizing how expensive the project had become, Caminito fired Squitieri and brought on Mario Caiano, an extremely prolific filmmaker whose work spanned the peplum, spaghetti western, giallo, and Italian horror fads. Then, Kinski, who had already clashed with Squitieri, unleashed a torrent of typical Kinskian terror. For a complete rundown on the notorious actor’s obnoxious and violent on-set actions, please see Roberto Curti’s Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1980-1989 (McFarland, 2019), Matthew Edwards’ Klaus Kinski, Beast of Cinema: Critical Essays and Fellow Filmmaker Interviews (McFarland, 2016), the television documentary Kinski in Italy (release date unknown), or the documentary included with this Blu-ray (see below). Needless to say, Caiano quit, leaving Caminito to direct and effectively babysit Kinski, who lorded over rewrites, recastings, and more. Essentially, Nosferatu in Venice wasn’t ever really completed – it was simply released when the people involved couldn’t endure making it any longer.
Nosferatu in Venice’s uniquely painful production doesn’t make it an particularly bizarre Italian horror film. The lack of narrative coherence isn’t really any more extreme than a fully realized Lucio Fulci gothic gorefest or a hastily cobbled Bruno Mattei trashfest. The only difference is that Caminito had the supposed luxuries of time and money on his side, whereas most Italian horror was shot on a strict schedule for pennies on the dollar. The final film, unfinished or not, probably works at all because Kinski’s tyranny barely found its way into the editing room, giving Caminito and editor Claudio M. Cutry the space they needed to stitch together a vaguely comprehensible plot from some truly arresting photography (some of which Kinski himself directed, according to Cozzi). In the great Italian cash-in tradition, the eerie tone and cinematographer Tonino Nardi’s foggy imagery were likely meant to evoke Herzog and Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein’s hypnotic work on Nosferatu the Vampyre, but, somewhere, the wires were crossed, leading to a uniquely Italian variation. Quite often, Caminito managed to disguise an incomprehensible movie as a contemplative movie that leaves its audience space to project onto its opacity. Of course, this falls apart whenever characters gather to explain the plot to each other, but, funnily enough, the lack of usable footage left the filmmakers with precious little exposition, so the relatively short runtime rarely feels wasted.
In spite of the genuinely awful things he did on set, Kinski’s enigmatic presence is also an asset, as it often was during the last rung of his self-destructive career. What he is doing here isn’t comparable to his performances in any of Herzog’s films or his for-hire spaghetti western gigs. It’s barely comparable to “acting.” It’s more like watching a very strange-looking fashion model being put through his paces. To this token, I suppose he’s essentially another piece of set dressing or another eerie Venetian location. The rest of the cast is better than typically seen in Italian horror movies from the late ‘80s, both in quality of actor and quality of performance. Christopher Plummer does that thing where he looks absolutely miserable (as he likely was), but takes the role seriously enough to lend it some pathos, despite being forced to speak all of the script’s most trite and eye-rolling dialogue. Donald Pleasance also phones it in, but skates by easily on the fact that he’s Donald Pleasance and he can scream existential nonsense better than anyone this side of Peter Cushing. Barbara De Rossi is the MVP, however, based both on the treatment she endured on set and the scale of her on-screen presence, compared to her brief screen time and thinly drawn characterization.
After being unavailable on North American home video for decades, Nosferatu in Venice had a short-lived anamorphic DVD release via One 7 Movies, a combination of defunct studios Mya Communications and No Shame Films, who got into legal trouble over unlicensed transfers. Severin Film’s Blu-ray is, as far as I can tell, the first 100% legit stateside release of the film, as well as its first HD availability in any region. The 1.85:1, 1080p transfer was created using a new 2K scan of the original film negative. Antonio Nardi’s foggy, soft, and otherwise obfuscated photography naturally doesn’t lend itself to the sharpest or most dynamic image, but, even at its smokiest and grittiest, the transfer ensures a level of clarity likely unmatched by anything outside of the film’s original theatrical release. The eclectic palette is consistent from scene to scene and colors don’t bloom or bleed beyond what we’d expect from similarly soft/foggy movies. Grain levels are also pretty consistent, though clumping obviously picks up a bit in dark exteriors, where the filmmakers can’t control the light as well. Print damage artifacts are surprisingly minimal, considering the source and age, and digital artifacts are limited to slight blocking during those dark, grainy exteriors. Note that some special effects shots (one in particular) seem to have been composited in standard-definition video and appear low resolution compared to the rest of the movie.
Severin has included English and Italian language tracks, both in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. In regards to this, DVDCompare.net’s notes state: “The original mix of the film is in mono. It was released to VHS in Japan and other territories with a Dolby Surround-compatible soundtrack which was achieved not through remixing, but by the then-common practice of adding stereo delay between the left and right channels.” I’m guessing that it was shot using a mix of ADR dubbing and synced sound (there is mention of recording sound in the Creation is Violent documentary). Either way, the lead cast is performing in English and, if they are dubbed, they’re dubbing themselves. Both tracks have somewhat inconsistent volume levels with variations occurring mostly from location to location. This and the occasional echoey-ness of the dialogue tracks seems to back up the mixed dubbed/synced assumption. The dreamy, electric-infused score was supplied by longtime Bruno Mattei collaborator (we won’t hold that against him) Luigi Ceccarelli and famed Greek composer Vangelis Papathanassiou, not many years after his work on Chariots of Fire (1981) and Blade Runner (1982). The music isn’t always perfectly utilized (almost certainly another side effect of difficult, last minute editing), but it bolsters up the hypnotic tone and benefits greatly from the lack of compression on both tracks, though, again, there are inconsistencies from scene to scene.
Creation is Violent: Anecdotes From Kinski’s Final Years (81:44, HD) – A Severin exclusive 2021 documentary that covers Kinski’s work from 1985 to 1991. It includes behind-the-scenes/on-set footage of Kinski (much taken from from the aforementioned Kinski in Italy doc, David Schmoeller’s Please Kill Klaus Kinski , and a manic Cannes press conference), clips from some of the films in question – Nosferatu in Venice, William Malone’s Creature (1985), David Schmoeller’s Crawlspace (1986), Ulli Lommel’s Revenge of the Stolen Stars (1986), and Kinski’s own Paganini (1989) – and extensive interviews with people who worked with and knew him personally over the period. The Nosferatu in Venice section is substantial enough that there’s no need for additional featurettes on the subject.
Creation is Violent outtakes – "Nothing Bad Can Happen" (8:12) and "Gypsies Should Be Played by Real Gypsies" (2:28)
Trailer (Italian text/German language)
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