Friday, 15 May 2015

May Sucks: Vampyr (1932)

Vampyr (1932)
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Starring: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, and Rena Mandel
Running Time: 75 min

  I remember watching this last year, but for the life of me, I can't remember any of it, so it gets to be new to me again.  I've only seen one other film by Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer and it was his "Passion of Joan of Arc" which was brilliant and I would recommend seeing it if you are a fan of silent films or films in general.  Anyway, I'm sure this time around will be more memorable and if not, than at least I'll know why I've blocked this film from my memory.

  Occultist Allan Grey arrives late one night to an inn, just outside of the small village of Courtempierre.  He heads up to this room and goes to bed, but shortly after he falls asleep, he is awakened by an old man tottering around his room.  The old man leaves a package on Allans' night stand, which reads, "To be opened upon my death" and then leaves Allan room.  Allan takes the package, wanders out of the inn and into a depreciate old building, where he sees shadows of people on the walls dancing and wandering on their own.  As he continues on, he sees a peculiar looking doctor tending to an old woman, who slips him a vile of poison, which the doctor puts on his shelf for later.  Allan continues on, following the sounds of dogs and the cries of child in the night.  Eventually Allan runs into the doctor, who dismisses his claims that there are any such sounds because there are no dogs or children in this building.  The doctor then asks Allan to leave, which he does.
  Allan then follows some of the strange night shadows down to a manor, where the finds the old man who was in his room with his two daughters.  Sadly, the one daughter is recovering from a mysterious illness, which was brought on by a bite on her neck.  However, she seems to be on the mend now and the old man has sent for the doctor again.  Suddenly, the old man is shot in back and killed while Allan is peeping in on the family!  Allan rushes inside to help but it's two late.  The family is devastated but ask Allan to stay the night, as thanks for him trying to help.  Allan wanders over to a desk to open the package that the old man left in his room and it's a book....on vampires!  Can Allan survive the night in this crazy village filled with superstitions and murder or will he fall prey to the creatures of the night or something less supernatural, like a bullet in the back?

  This was a very interesting film and has some compelling story telling from director Carl Theodor Dreyer.  What is most fascinating is that this was supposed to be his first "sound" film and like Chaplin's "Modern Times", uses little to no talking because, unlike Chaplin's,  it needed to be recorded in three languages.  So, Dreyer decided that the would stick with title cards like in his other silent films to tell the most of the story.   However, there is some talking throughout with good performances given by Julian West, who plays Allan Grey and Jan Hieronimko, who plays the doctor.
  I liked how Dreyer uses the shadows to guide Allan towards the manor, these dark shadowy souls dancing and running from wall to wall gives a extraordinarily creepy feel to the film.  Also, I really enjoyed Dreyer's use of the skeleton because it gives a wonderfully eerie sense of foreshading and I think skeletons are cool in films. 
  Also, I like the people who he chose to play the villagers in this.  There are some very different looking faces, I hate to be rude but are reminiscent to a certain film by Tod Browning.  This gives the film another dimension and contributes to the idea that this village is cursed in someway and really adds to the tone of the film.   

  This film may have some issues that may or may not be Dreyers' fault.  Like a lot of these older films, the original print was damaged because of bad storage but luckily there were a couple of copies/versions/prints available of the film that could be stitched together for this version.  The version I watched was a recent Janos/Criterion which looked pretty good and the story was mostly intact.
  However, my issue with the film is that if a film is called "Vampyr", I want more vampire stuff in it.  The story alludes a lot to vampirism but the suspected vampire is never seen attacking anyone or even in the vicinity when things go down.  The ending clears it up a bit but I just didn't find anything that terrifying with the vampire itself.
  Also, Dreyer has the Allan character in a weird dream state for most of the film and uses some strange steps in the story telling that could be found confusing.  For instance at one point, Allan falls asleep on a bench and his spirit goes off to do more searching but ends up finding his dead body in a casket but his body is still on the bench?  I don't get that, but maybe I'm thinking to much or that is a huge stretch.  There are couple other minor things like that, which might turn some people off the film.

  This is a good movie but it's not really a horror horror per se,  nonetheless it is an very captivating supernatural story.  There is a neat arthouse feel to this film with a different take on the vampire mythos that some people may find entertaining.  There isn't any gore and the murders are pretty tame, compared to today's standard, but it does have a great ending that is thrilling and just.  So, if you're a fan of silent or near silent films and are scavenging the tombs for a vampire flick, then sink your teeth into this vintage film because although it doesn't have a lot of bodies, it has still aged quite well.

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