Friday, April 2, 2021

NOSFERATU IN VENICE (1988) (Severin Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Severin Films
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 93 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.77:1)
Audio: English and Italian DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Augusto Caminito, and others Uncredited 
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Barbara De Rossim Yorgo Voyagis, Donald Pleasence, Christopher Plummer

Nosferatu in Venice (1988) was originally intended to be an unofficial sequel to Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1984), which also starred cinema-madman Klaus Kinski (Aguirre, the Wrath of God), whose typically batshit persona made sure that wasn't quite what transpired. Kinski once more appeared as an ancient vampire set in modern Venice, Italy, but as he refused to cut his hair and go bald like the bloodsucker in Herzog's film, what we have is a long, white-maned Kinski in Victorian garb, which looks pretty cool to be honest.

The production of this film has a storied history with no less than  four directors  having been on it for various lengths of time, including Mario Caiano (Nightmare Castle), Luigi Cozzi The Black Cat), Maurizio Lucidi (Probability Zero), and even producer Augusto Caminito (Murder Rock) and star Klaus Kinski. The story behind the string of directors is interesting and explored in some depth on the accompanying documentary found on the disc, my favorite is that one of them left after being slapped by Kinski on set! 

The plot of the film is not the most cohesive, but it's a strangely hypnotic film shot in Venice and the locations and cinematography are absolutely captivating. The story such as it begins with the arrival of the de facto Van Helsing character,  a vampire hunter named Professor Catalano (Christopher Plummer, Murder By Decree), who we see arriving in Venice via gondola, looking a bit like George Washington crossing the Delaware. He has been summoned there by the aristocratic family of a young woman named Helietta Canins (Barbara De Rossi, Sweets from a Stranger) and her elderly mother (Maria Cumani Quasimodo, All the Colors of the Dark), whose Transylvanian family history mingles with that of the legendary Nosferatu. Helietta believes that a long held family secrets is somehow  connected to a string of vampire murders happening around the city, and it might have something to do with that iron-bound coffin in the crypt! Catalano begins to research the killings, all the while being assisted by priest Don Alvise (Donald Pleasence, Raw Meat), who is a friend of the family. Together the priest and the vampire hunter research the family's diaries, ancient texts, a even a painting for clues about the notorious bloodsucker, who was last seen during the 18th century in Venice. 

Kinski as the vampire looks great, stalking the narrow, low-lit alleyways and cobblestone streets of Venice and setting upon a series of gorgeous women before draining them of their essence.  Kinski unique face makes for an interesting figure, with his black Victorian jacket and ascot, a long mane of white hair, his piercing blue eyes, and when occasionally sporting a set of vampiric rat-teeth.  Kinski plays it the role with an intense but strange presence, a much more refined character than in the Herzog film. I love having Plummer and Pleasance onboard for this by they're not exactly bringing their A-game, and are obviously slumming it this this Italian knock-off. Or maybe they're just overpowered by the presence of Kinski, neither were above sleepwalking through a paying gig, but they still manage to bring some of dramatic staginess to the film, particularly Plummer who seems vamps it up himself at times, which only adds to the weird feel of the film. 

While I thought the story was disconnected the film itself won me over with how stylishly shot it was, the scenes of old world Venice are gorgeous and the lensing pulls you right into it with a thick layer of atmosphere throughout, which makes me all the more forgiving of the storytelling inconsistencies. One aspect I loved was how it shakes up the mythology a bit, stating that the only thing that can kill the nosferatu is for him to fall in love with a virgin, which is weird, bit so to is everything else about this movie.

Those looking for blood-soaked gore will most likely be disappointed on some level, while we get some neck-biting, multiple impalements on wrought iron it's , and a unintentionally funny shot gun blast that leaves the vampire with a perfectly round dinner plate sized hole in is chest through which you can see through him, that is then instantly healed by reversing the film stock, but this is more a film that gets by on atmosphere more so than any slick-looking special effects shots. 

The film is also ripe with nudity which certainly does not hurt it's euro cult appeal, that purient element when combined with Kinski's strange but enthralling 
performance and the gorgeous Italian scenery, wrapped up in a stylish lensing, and a cool score featuring Luigi Ceccarelli (Women's Prison Massacre) adapting the works of Vangelis (Blade Runner), all of which make this troubled production surprisingly watchable, but it's still a hot mess, just a watchable one that stars Kinski, Plummer and Pleasance, and one that is not hurting for the want of nude women. 

Audio/Video: Nosferatu In Venice (1988) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Severin Films who present the film scanned in 2K from the original camera negative, framed in 1.77:1 widescreen in 1080p HD, with the Vampires In Venice title card. The source is in very good shape. The opening credits do showcase a couple of scenes marred by a large stray hair that is hard to ignore. Grain is a bit thick throughout, depth and clarity suffer some, but overall this is a fine looking presentation with warm colors that easily surpasses the inferior looking One 7 Movies DVD that I've had for a few years now. 

Audio comes by way of both English and Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono, and I thought the English track was far superior. It's more robust sounding, and the score from Luigi Ceccarelli (based on the album "Masks" by Vangelis) sounds more dynamic.

Worth the price of admission all by itself is the documentary Creation is Violent – Anecdotes From Kinski’s Final Years which runs 82-minutes and was directed by Severin's Josh Johnson.  This is a terrific talking heads collection of various cast and crew who worked with Kinski in his final years from '85-'91. We get interviews from directors David Schmoeller (Crawlspace), Uli Lommell (Revenge of the Stolen Stars), Michael Schulz (Timestalkers), and Luigi Cozzi, producers  Stefano Spadoni and Augusto Camintino, actors Diane Salinger (Creature),  Barry Hickey (Revenge of the Stolen Stars),  Abbott Alexander (Crawlspace), Debora Caprioglio (Paganini), plus a great segment with make-up special FX  legend Gabe Bartolos (Crawlspace), plus there are cool Kinski quote title cards peppered throughout. Towards the end we get a different sort of tale about Kinski from the perspective of an USPS employee who got to know the actor through his regular visits to the the post office where she worked when he was living in the mountains California, and how both she and her daughter became close friends with him at the end of his life.  It's a fantastic documentary as the participants describe notorious actor as both brilliant, egotistic, insane, unhinged and outright terrible, not to mention some shocking allegations of sexual assault during his intimate scenes with his female co-stars. I particularly enjoyed the stories from his Creature co-star Diane Salinger, a strong woman who comes off as quite a colorful character. Actress Debora Caprioglio, whom had a intimate relationship with Kinski, is a bit kinder to him than some. 

Also included are 10-minutes of outtakes from the doc not featured in it, these include tales of making Vampire In Venice, the best of which is a fun story from Luigi Cozzi who tells how Kinski demanded that real singing gypsies must be used in the gypsy scenes, and how they had to import a troupe of singing/dancing gypsies for the film. Extras are buttoned-up with a 2-minute Italian trailer for the film with the Nosferatu a Venizia title card. 

The single-disc release arrives in a black Viva Elite keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork that looks to be one of the original movie poster designs, the disc features the same key artwork . 

Special Features:
- Creation is Violent – Anecdotes From Kinski’s Final Years (82 min) HD 
- Creation is Violent Outtakes: Nothing Bad Can Happen (8 min), Gypsies Should Be Played by Real Gypsies! (2 min) HD
- Trailer (2 min) 
- Webstore Exclusive Slipcover

Webstore Exclusive Slip 

Nosferatu In Venice (1988) is a hot mess but a watchable one with more than a few elegant touches. We get an atmospheric if disjointed vampire tale that looks great, and while the story sort of falls apart Kinski is always interesting and we get supporting roles from Donald Pleasance and Christopher Plummer, plus a bevy of European beauties, all of which  keep things interesting. Severin Films Blu-ray looks and sounds quite good, and if late-era Kinski were not enough to get you through the door the feature-length Creation is Violent – Anecdotes From Kinski’s Final Years documentary is well-worth the price of admission alone. 

Screenshot from the Blu-ray: