Vampyr (AKA: The Vampire, AKA: Not Against the Flesh) – 1932
Director – Carl Theodor Dreyer
Starring – Julian West, Maurice Schutz, and Rena Mandel
When I think of a good vampire story, I think of the grotesque, deformed creature typified by Max Schreck in Nosferatu. I think of Bela Lugosi’s suave and seductive Count Dracula from the aptly named Dracula. Hell, I even think of Kiefer Sutherland and Alex Winter as the perpetual, rebellious, angst-ridden teenagers in Lost Boys. One thing I do not think of, despite it’s clever title, is Vampyr the nearly silent horror story from cinema pioneer Carl Theodor Dreyer.
Firstly, Vampyr is a vampire story in the loosest of terms. There is an evil, in the form of a person, or people, terrorizing a small, eastern european village. About halfway through the movie, mention is made of a young woman with a wound on her neck who is acting as if possessed. It is there that the similarities end.
Now despite it not really being true to the vampire angle, the film does have its moments of creepy, skin crawling ingenuity. Dreyer’s use of subtle editing tricks to make the shadows come alive pack quite a punch both visually, and in the scare department. Ghostly shadow figures go about their business against walls, reflected in water, and along the ground, while our main character stares in disbelief. These effects are used so often in fact that it is more accurate to call the film Shadowpyr than Vampyr. It is unfortunate for the film, however, that this aspect of the story wasn’t explored further than just as creepy visuals.
Earlier I mentioned that this film was nearly silent, this is because when the film was produced it was still the early days of sound and not much was done other than the occasional section of dialogue or stray sound effect. In a way, this lack of sound really helps the sections of the film dealing with the shadows. It seems strange and off somewhat that we are unable to hear the shadow with a peg leg ascend the ladder, or the shadowy gravedigger digging a grave. All the sections not utilizing the lack of sound in this way are left wanting. The dialogue is rather garbled and mumbly and doesn’t seem to match up with the actor who is supposedly speaking the line. This is partially because it is in a language I don’t understand, but it also helped along by the fact that there are title cards with the dialogue even though the film has sound.
By and large this was an interesting film. Some of the visuals were very disturbing and effective, but this seems more like a footnote in cinema history rather than a benchmark. Good, but not nearly as good as the director’s earlier work, and if you’re interested in that, start with La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. If you want a good movie about vampires, try Let The Right One In, or one of the films I mentioned earlier.