Vampire in Venice (1988)
Professor Paris Catalano travels to Venice to investigate the whereabouts of the infamous vampire Nosferatu, whose last known appearance was during the Carnival of 1786. Catalano believes that the vampire is searching for a way to put an end to his immortal torment and actually die.
A notoriously troublesome production, the story behind a Vampire in Venice is a lot more entertaining and shocking than the film itself. It was originally slated to be a direct sequel to Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre. Having signed leading man Klaus Kinski to return to his famous role, Italian producer Augusto Caminito originally secured Maurizio Lucidi as the director. However, Caminito later felt that film would be better with a more well-known director and a higher budget, so Lucidi was dropped in favour of Pasquale Squitieri. He then made several changes to the script which Caminito was not happy with, so he paid Squitieri off and terminated his contract, leading to the film’s budget having to be slashed. Director Mario Caiano was then hired but he repeatedly clashed with the infamously difficult Kinski on set and ended up walking, leading to Caminito to direct the film himself. The labour of love Caminito had started was already more trouble than it was worth but after six weeks of filming in Venice, he realised he didn’t have enough footage and called it a day, assembling the final cut of the film you see before you with what little he had shot.
To complicate matters, the highly controversial Kinski was anything but cooperative with whoever was behind the camera and Caminito’s insistence that he could not lose his star at any cost gave Kinski almost full control of the film. Not only content with clashing with directors, Kinski also repeatedly ignored directions, leading to extensive re-setting of the lighting and staging of scenes, and demanded to shoot some scenes himself. Whilst actors and directors have clashed with each other since the dawn of film, it’s Kinski’s behaviour with his female co-stars that is the most disturbing thing here. After seeing Anne Knecht visiting one of the actors on set one day, Kinski had actress Amanda
Sandrelli fired and replaced with Knecht who he clearly took a fancy to, and he made sure he was involved in a gratuitous and fairly graphic sex scene with her. In another sex scene with actress Barbara De Rossi, Kinski went further than the script dictated, ripping open her blouse, groping her breasts and then sexually assaulting her, leading her to rush off set in floods of tears. The crew went on strike in protest at Kinski’s behaviour and he eventually apologised. Kinski’s sordid depravity has no place anywhere in this world, let alone disguised under the mask of movie making, and it’s unsettling to see him engage in these acts under the camouflage of being in character. To top it off, Kinski refused to wear the original Nosferatu make-up, so this ‘sequel’ bears little similarity to Herzog’s film, with the vampire looking like some washed-up prog rocker with long, shaggy hair and frilly jacket.
Vampire in Venice is as messy as you’d expect from such a background of carnage and completely fails as a coherent narrative piece. The film is confusing, all over the place in terms of characters and ideas. Some characters enter the story and then disappear without really knowing who they are. Things happen in the plot which go unaccounted for and make little sense (clearly the result of so many different directors and their visions). Vampire lore previously established in Nosferatu the Vampyre is discarded, which kind of ruins the idea of this being a direct sequel. And there’s an awful lot of scenes of Nosferatu walking slowly around Venice (Kinski apparently shot over ten hours of this type of footage of him just ambling around looking all stern and serious) which add nothing to the story except pad out the running time. You won’t really have a clue what is going on most of the time so at some point around a third of the way in, I just switched off and tried to enjoy what I could.
The irony is that what destroys the film also makes it work. The fact there’s little in the way of structure gives Vampire in Venice a very macabre and moody, almost dreamlike feeling where anything can happen and rules mean nothing – if the script wants to do something, it does, giving Vampire in Venice an unpredictable edge. The location shooting in Venice really adds to the atmosphere, the fog-shrouded shots of Nosferatu sailing around in a gondola are very spooky and effective, and the whole Gothic vibe of Venice really translates across nicely into horror. There’s a great soundtrack too, something slightly off-beat and melodramatic which enhances this whole dream-like quality to the film.
Nosferatu is a tortured soul, tormented by melancholy and a desire to end his eternal suffering, which is kind of ironic as the heroes’ attempts to defeat him and ‘aid him’ don’t go very well. I’m not condoning Kinski’s horrific off-camera behaviour but the wild intensity of his performance and sheer disgust which he appears to show for everyone translates beautifully across onto the screen. Despite looking like some jumped-up Amadeus wannabe as he struts silently around Venice, he has this continual loathing sneer on his face, revolted by everything and everyone he crosses paths with, like everyone is beneath him. I guess that’s what an immortal vampire would be feeling, knowing he was superior to everyone else but knowing how terrified the cast and crew were of this madman just adds a nice element of intensity.
Both Christopher Plummer and Donald Pleasance signed up for this one, with both featuring in decent-sized roles and lending a touch of class and gravitas that Vampire in Venice, or more specifically Kinski, does not deserve. However, like the rest of the film, they fall victim to the nonsensical script which has them in and out of the story rather abruptly. Barbara De Rossi and Anne Knecht add beauty if little else to their roles and it’s easy to see why they were cast (and why Kinksi filmed sex scenes with both of them!).
There is a bizarre, dark and poetic beauty to what should be a car crash of a horror film. Vampire in Venice can’t be recommended as a good film but there’s an inexplicable compulsion to watching it unfold before your eyes and that’s thanks to Kinksi’s intense, otherworldly performance. Love him or hate him, there’s no question he can command the screen like few others.
Vampire in Venice
Also Known As: Nosferatu in Venice
Director(s): Augusto Caminito, Klaus Kinski (uncredited), Maurizio Lucidi (uncredited), Luigi Cozzi (uncredited)
Writer(s): Alberto Alfieri (story), Leandro Lucchetti (story), Augusto Caminito (screenplay)
Actor(s): Klaus Kinski, Barbara de Rossi, Yorgo Voyagis, Anne Knecht, Donald Pleasance, Christopher Plummer
Duration: 97 mins