Color, 1988, 93 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Augusto Caminito
Klaus Kinski, Barbara De Rossi, Christopher Plummer, Donald Pleasence, Yorgo Voyagis, Anne Knecht
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) One 7 Movies (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), CineKult (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
An unofficial sequel to Werner Herzog's 1979 film, Nosferatu the Vampire, this enigmatic Italian horror offering was originally entitled Nosferatu a Venezia, and also circulated as Vampires in Venice or Vampire in Venice. Now sporting a full head of gray hair, the notoriously temperamental Klaus Kinski (who would be dead three years after its release) returns as a bloodsucking menace haunting the canals of the titular city, though his involvement also ensured this would be a turbulent and very troubled production that had to be severely compromised by the time the cameras started rolling.
Brought in investigate rumors of the prowling undead is Professor Catalano (Plummer!), who might as well be named Van Helsing. His aid is sought by the pretty Helietta Canins (De Rossi), whose elderly matriarch (Knecht) insists their Transylvanian past is linked to a bloody secret, specifically a sinister coffin down in the family crypt connected to the infamous titular vampire who was last spotted during an 18th-century Venetian carnival season. Also on hand is a priest, Don Alvise (Pleasence), who helps decipher the clues of cryptic Latin texts to the whereabouts of Nosferatu, who apparently now only likes to prey on nubile, unclad young women and can be vanquished while in the act of love. With the bloodsucker once again prowling the canals and tossing people onto spiked gates whenever the mood hits, it's only a matter of time before he sets his sights on Helietta.
Originally intended to be a cash-in on the Herzog film in 1984 with Kinski retaining his bald cap and long talons, this film ended up going through a carousel of intended directors including Nightmare Castle's Mario Caiano (who stuck around for one day with Kinski) and Stateline Motel's Maurizio Lucidi, while Contamination's Luigi Cozzi handled assistant director duties. Virtually all of it wound up being helmed and credited to producer Augusto Caminito, who had virtually no directorial experience (but had several screenplays under his belt) and had to stick around when nobody else would take the job in time. Of course, Gothic period horror films were long out of vogue by this time, and the one wound up getting no English-language distribution in most territories. Substandard bootlegs sourced from the Japanese VHS release were the only means of seeing it at all for most curious viewers, which is odd given the pedigree involved even if the end result is more of a shaggy curio than a legitimate horror movie.
Despite its rocky history and distribution woes, the film is still fascinating today with some extremely rich Venetian atmosphere helping tremendously. The carnival trappings, antiquated villas, and bombastic orchestral and synthesizer music make for a memorably strange experience that carries the film over its bumpier spots, and even though he was essentially phoning his performances in at this point, it's always fun to see Kinski skulking around with vampire teeth and facing off against Plummer. He's clearly in a similar mode as his sole directing/starring vehicle, Paganini, which was has even less plot and ended up getting an even chillier reception.
Bearing the fabricated title Prince of the Night, this film came to U.S. DVD in a legally dubious release in 2014 from One 7 Movies with a transfer that appears to be identical to the Italian-only version released earlier on DVD by CineKult. Fortunately the original English language track is here, and apart from some major dropouts during main titles, it sounds okay. The film was definitely shot in English with Plummer's performance in particular only working in that version, so this is definitely the way to go. The Italian dubbed track is also included as a secondary option, but it doesn't have any English subtitles and sounds very tinny. All things considered the transfer itself looks pretty good throughout but originates from PAL with the obvious issues that implies. The sole extra is a two-minute gallery of international poster art and lobby cards.
In 2021, Severin Films brought the film into official U.S. circulation as a standalone Blu-ray and DVD (the former with a limited webstore slipcover), as well as a bundle allowing you to really let your Kinski flag fly if you're so inclined. The transfer (bearing the title Vampires in Venice) looks quite nice here and different from earlier releases with a brighter, cooler look, albeit with very splashy colors during the carnival sequences and bursts of primary hues like a glowing red cross. The original English track and the Italian dub are presented in DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono options with English SDH and English-translated subtitle options. Both tracks sound fine considering the film has never sounded terribly great, with the dialogue sometimes suffering from that odd canned, reverb effect found in some other late '80s Italian genre films like a few Filmirage entries. (Some prints and publicity material indicate a Dolby Stereo mix, but this appears to be wishful thinking as it doesn't appear to have ever been released that way.)
Anyone on the fence about this release will probably be swayed by the big extra here: Creation Is Violent (81m44s), a new documentary about Josh Johnson about Kinski's final years from 1985 to 1991. The tales of Kinski's maniacal, mercurial antics have become legendary over the years, largely thanks to his volatile collaborations with Werner Herzog, his notorious autobiography, and more recent heinous revelations about his personal conduct. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of separating the art from the artist, this is an astounding documentary focusing on the making of Creature, Crawlspace, Revenge of the Stolen Stars, Nosferatu in Venice, and Paganini, with a few little bits in there about Cobra Verde, Timestalkers, and Commando Leopard. Among the interviewees are Diane Salinger, David Schmoeller, Michael Schultz, Stefano Spadoni, Barry Hickey, years-long companion and onetime co-star Deborah Caprioglio, Mario Caiano, Luigi Cozzi, and Augusto Caminito among many others, plus archival material with Ulli Lommel and a weirdly calming and resonant final chapter with Phyllis Winter and Sara Ellis, two locals connected to the post office in Lagunitas, California and friends of Kinski shortly before his passing. The whole thing is compelling from start to finish with virtually everyone confirming that Kinski would turn a set into a nightmare while exhibiting a Jekyll and Hyde personality, capable of sweet tenderness one moment and savage anger the next. To back it up you get some extensive looks at a crazed, off the cuff video shot of a rambling Kinski by Gabe Bartalos, who handled special effects on Crawlspace. Both he and Salinger have some of the most potent stories of all here, but the insanity factor never flags here as we get stories of objects hurled at directors, not to mention some seriously lecherous and in some cases illegal transgressions against actresses and crew members. It seems like Stolen Stars' Joycelyne Lew got the worst of it among the interview subjects, but both she and Salinger have some fascinating and illuminating accounts about how they dodged and defused Kinski's misconduct. The making of Nosferatu in Venice is a whole saga unto itself, too, charing how it changed financiers due to delays with Kinski, the loss of some costly preliminary carnival footage when Kinski refused to assume the same appearance as the one in the Herzog film, and the eventual involvement of Silvio Berlusconi, who hated the end product. Also included are two collections of outtakes from the documentary, "Nothing Bad Can Happen" (8m12s) focusing on the Italian participants and "Gypsies Should Be Played by Real Gypsies!" (2m28s), a standalone story from Cozzi (filmed in the amazing basement of his Profondo Rosso shop, of course) about the filming of an early scene in the film. A German theatrical trailer is also included with English subtitles.
Severin Films (Blu-ray)
One 7 Movies (DVD)
Updated review on March 13, 2021.