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Nosferatu, the Vampyre

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Picador, London, 1979
(price: 90p; 144 pages)

dedication: to Gregg and Charlie

The blurb on the back:

Nosferatu ... The Undead ... Count Dracula ... a name that will always whisper of the unspeakable, of sensuous evil, of the pinnacle of the sado-erotic, of death that travels on silken batwings.
A lonely, wraith-like figure, doomed to wander forever in the realm of twilight in search of the alluring and lovely woman, whose destony is to defeat him only by submission ... the giving of herself from the dusk until dawn.
Nosferatu - the name under which the vampire myth first reached the screen - is now recreated by Werner Herzog as a sensual and haunting masterpiece of cinema. Eighty years after Bran Stoker's Dracula, Paul Monette's outstanding novel once more breathes life into the ultimate myth of evil ...

Just to remind you how odd this all is. Bram Stoker's novel Dracula was an instant success when it was published in 1897, and by the 1920s had inspired a stage-play that was an international hit in its own right. Naturally, the early pioneers of cinema figured that they too could get in on this phenomenon, and German director FW Murnau created what remains the definitive film version of the novel in 1922. Unfortunately he hadn't cleared the rights to the work, and whilst he tried to conceal that fact by changing the names (Harker and Count Dracula became Hutter and Count Orlock), no one was fooled. He kept exactly the same story - though he relocated it from England to Germany - and his infringement of the copyright could hardly pass unnoticed. Stoker's widow took out a successful court action and all copies of the movie were ordered to be destroyed. A couple of prints survived, however, and eventually the film was restored to its rightful position in the top echelons of German silent cinema.

In 1979 Werner Herzog remade the film with Klaus Kinski in the title role, originally played by Max Schreck, and a novelization emerged to cash in on the new version.

This book then is a post-modernist's wet dream: a novelization of a remake of a film that plagiarised a novel. Or, as Tim Burton might say, it's a re-imagining of Dracula.

As it happens, Herzog's movie is rubbish - wouldn't even make the top ten Dracula films - but the novel is something of a triumph.

Paul Monette was a respected American writer who, at the time of this book, had produced a volume of poetry and a novel. He went on to a series of novelizations, none of them as impressive or obvious as this one - Scarface, Predator and Midnight Run - but was probably best-known for his 1988 non-fiction work Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir. (He died of Aids-related diseases.)

The clarity and understated elegance of Monette's prose is superbly suited to a tale of this mythic power, and the result is one of the tiny, tiny handful of novelizations that make the grade in their own right. Recommended.

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Like this? Try these...

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Count Dracula

visit Paul Monette's grave