Nadja is an unfairly forgotten slice of ultra-hip 90s vampire action. Let’s see what you’ve missed for all these years.
When you sit down to watch a horror movie and David Lynch is the most normal person in it, you know you’re in for an interesting ride.
Michael Almereyda is a weird director, making weird, minutely-observed character-study flicks about oddballs, but few are as odd as the dysfunctional family of vampires in Nadja. On the surface, it’s a re-imagining of the Dracula mythos, and it’s contemporary New York setting and arch black and white styling mean it shares some genes with The Hunger, but this is a far weirder affair.
While the setting is updated, it’s actually quite refreshing to see a modern vampire movie that isn’t afraid of the old legends. There are plenty of flashbacks to Transylvania throughout, filmed as an echo of Murnau’s Nosferatu, all long shadows, dutch angles and wonky farmhouses. Despite this, it’s made clear that New York is the centre of the world for these vamps, unwilling to make the ‘long haul’ out to the uncivilised hinterlands of Brooklyn. How times have changed..
The plot is straightforward enough. Nadja is the daughter of Dracula, trying to get over his unfortunate staking at the hands of old enemy Van Helsing (a wryly amusing Peter Fonda, playing the role as a bumbling old hippy, burnt out on bloodshed and touring NYC on his bike as he looks for more bloodsuckers to despatch), a process that forces her to reconnect with her brother.
There’s surprisingly little bloodshed, bar the slow turning of latest victim Cassandra (Suzy Amis), but plenty of fang-sharp dialogue. There’s also an extremely 90s-cool soundtrack, with The Verve, Portishead and even perennial losers Spacehog showing up to help shuffle the action along, and Almereyda brings an unusual eye to proceedings as well as a love for amusing casting.
It’s as much Woody Allenesque family dramedy as it is a horror movie, but it has a great sense of history and a clear love for vampire flicks old and new (keep an eye out for Bela Legosi) and some solid dramatic themes. It’s particularly interesting in retrospect to note the huge influence this appears to have had on 2014’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.
It’s a shame that this isn’t on more people’s radars, as it’s a unique, fun and surprisingly accessible hipster horror flick.
For more spine-chilling thrills to watch over Halloween, check out our complete 31 days of horror movies list.