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Werner Herzog's "Nosferatu the Vampyre," one of the most-requested older movies not yet available on video, made its cassette debut this week on the Anchor Bay Entertainment label.

A 1979 remake of F.W. Murnau's 1922 silent classic, "Nosferatu," Herzog's version stars the late Klaus Kinski as a vampire count loosely based on Bram Stoker's Dracula. Stoker's story line is abbreviated to a triangle involving Dracula, Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) and Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz).

While the movie lacks the primitive force of Murnau's version (which almost seems to have been filmed in another century), Herzog made the most of the fact that he had access to better actors (and more money) than Murnau. Kinski plays Dracula in an eerily humane manner.

When he can't bear for Jonathan to wipe the blood off his injured finger, or he sits down to feast on Lucy's throat, he's clearly engulfed by animal hunger, but there's a reluctance about his expressions and movements that suggests that lust is battling discretion inside him. Kinski's vampire is a monster at war with his better but weaker half, suffering because he's stirred by beauty as much as by blood. This is not so much a horror film as it is a tragic variation on "Beauty and the Beast."

"It's such an erotic, human interpretation," said Kinski when he was promoting the film in San Francisco 20 years ago. "The vampire wants blood because he needs to get close, because living without love is like being dead all the time. The way Werner and I made it, this is a story concerning anyone who needs love."

The movie was made after a four-year falling-out between Kinski and Herzog, who fought on the set of "Aguirre, Wrath of God" (1972). On "Nosferatu," they immediately disagreed again about the vampire's makeup, which Herzog wanted to resemble the ghastly apparition in Murnau's film. Kinski, who hated makeup, wanted only to shave his head and use long fingernails. Herzog won.

Anchor Bay is releasing three tapes of "Nosferatu": an English-language version ($15), a German version with English subtitles ($15) and a limited-edition tape that includes both versions ($30).

Also making their video debuts this week are three Deanna Durbin musicals from Universal Studios Home Video: "I'll Be Yours," a 1947 remake of Preston Sturges' "The Good Fairy"; "Because of Him," a 1945 comedy co-starring Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone; and "The Amazing Mrs. Holliday," a 1944 drama about missionaries and orphaned Chinese children in which Durbin sings "Rock-a-Bye Baby" in Chinese. The tapes are $20 apiece.

Kino on Video's latest collection of vintage films is "The Chaplin Mutuals: Remastered," a three-cassette collection of 12 comedies Charles Chaplin made for the Mutual Film Corporation in 1916-17. The titles include some of his best shorts -- "The Cure," "Easy Street," "The Immigrant" -- but they haven't looked this good in decades. Making use of the best surviving 35mm prints and such advances in technology as "digital vision noise reduction," film historian and restoration expert David Shepard has eliminated visible splices, flaked emulsion and scratches and slowed the films down to their original, correct speed. Each $20 tape includes four shorts.

Columbia TriStar Home Video is reissuing two older films this week: John Cassavetes' "Gloria," which earned Gena Rowlands a 1980 best-actress Oscar nomination for her performance as an ex-gun moll (Sharon Stone plays the role in a remake that opens in theaters today), and a 15th-anniversary edition of Lawrence Kasdan's "The Big Chill," which was restored (with stereo added) for a theatrical release last fall.

-- John Hartl/Knight Ridder

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