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October 30, 2014

Prince of the Night

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Nosferatu a Venezia
Augusto Caminito - 1988
One 7 Movies Region 0 DVD

I'm not entirely sure what to make of Prince of the Night, starting with why One 7 Movies would bother creating a new English language title. Nosferatu in Venice sums up all you need to know. That the film stars Klaus Kinski is enough to inform most interested viewers that Kinski is reprising the title role in Werner Herzog's film from 1979. The film is not really a sequel to Herzog's film, nor does it really have much to do with F.W. Murnau's silent classic, other than the name of the vampire. More confounding is that it's a film that might have actually been better than what we have here had the production not been disrupted by the whims of the star.

Original director Mario Caiano doesn't have the most distinguished filmography, but it does include Nightmare Castle starring Barbara Steele. Reportedly Caiano was fired at the request of Kinski. According to IMDb, Maurizio Lucidi, who directed the very good Designated Victim, had a hand, as did Luigi Cozzi of Starcrash infamy, as well as Kinski. Directorial credit went to producer Augusto Caminito. While there is no discernible sense of visual style, the chaos of the production may at least partially explain why what is seen is serviceable most of the time, when the film could have benefitted from a better composed and lit shots.

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Most of the action takes place at a mansion in Venice, where the Van Helsing proxy, Professor Catalano, shows up at the request of a princess. The legend is that Nosferatu was last seen in Venice in the 18th Century. Rather than assuming that the vampire has finally died or at least has found new hunting grounds with a new identity, Catalano and company have a seance which brings Nosferatu back to life. As it's carnival time, Nosferatu's centuries old clothing fits in quite well with the rest of the revelers. In this movie, Nosferatu has no fear of crucifixes, crushing one in his hand, and making the one held by Catalano red hot, burning the professor's hand. He also sees his reflection. Shotgun blasts through the stomach don't stop this vampire. What is suppose to kill Nosferatu is the love received from a virgin. And sure enough, there's a young woman ready to give her all, with little concern that the object of her affection is a nocturnal blood sucker, or that there is a considerable age difference.

As it turned out, Christopher Plummer, who plays Catalano, also played Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula 2000. The DVD comes with both English and Italian language tracks. I chose English in part to hear Plummer and Donald Pleasance in their own voices. Pleasance appears as a priest, a resident of the mansion. Having Plummer and Pleasance in the cast helps provide some instant gravitas to the film. Evidently, Pleasance must have enjoyed whatever work he did with Cozzi to work with him the following year on The Paganini Horror. Whatever pathos Kinski brought to the role of Nosferatu under Herzog's direction is absent here. Most of the time, Kinski just glares at the camera. His vampire visage, with the rodential teeth, is seen very briefly. Kinski took the role in order to finance his pet project, Paganini, what turned out to be his final film, and not to be confused with Cozzi's film. Of course, frolicking onscreen with a naked young lady might have had some incentive for the volatile actor.

With whatever was spent on providing something resembling star power, there wasn't much for special effects. A scene with with Nosferatu flying over Venice with his virgin in his arm is very obviously a superimposed shot, the kind that barely passed muster in cheapjack science fiction movies more than fifty years ago. Venice, usually seen at night, and a few fog machines, do most of the heavy lifting here, providing the kind of atmosphere that was probably used best in Don't Look Now. In a French interview, Luigi Cozzi describes the film as a catastrophe. And upon closer examination, the film is cobbled together with various elements that don't quite fit. It's a film maudit, alright, but one that is watchable for its own idiosyncratic pleasures.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 30, 2014 06:43 AM