Vampyr (AKA: The Vampire, AKA: Not Against the Flesh) (1932)

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.

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Animal Farm (1954)

AnimalFarm

Animal Farm – 1954

Directors – Joy Bachelor, and John Halas

Starring – Gordon Heath, and Maurice Denham

Based on the novel by George Orwell, Animal Farm, is a not so thinly veiled allegory for Russia’s Communist Revolution.  The major players in history (Stalin, Trotsky, Czar Nicholas II, etc.), are each represented by a different character here.  The difference is that each of the main characters is an animal.  A farm animal in fact.  The animals, mistreated by the drunkard, self-absorbed farmer, rebel and drive the humans out re-naming the farm Animal Farm.  The animals set up a series of rules, or commandments that must never be broken, but to the leadership and power structure, these soon become obstacles that inevitably are trampled.

If you’ve had even a brief introduction to the history of the last 50 or so years, you probably have a decent idea where this is all going.  The problem for the movie, in my humble opinion, comes with the fact that the movie is animated.  It removes some of the credibility and some of the impact of the characters and their motivations.  In place of a fiery, tyrant with dictatorial ambitions, we get a smirking, cartoon villain with no more dimensionality than the description implies.  Each character seemed a little over-simplified, a feeling that is enhanced by the animation, and the abbreviated nature of the film as opposed to say…the book.

I suppose that I’ve railed on the style of the film a bit more than it deserves.  One very obvious benefit, was the fact that the film was able to be made because of it.  In 1954, there was no computer generated anything, no animatronic puppetry, and no realistic, cost-effective way of using real animals.  The only alternative left was to use hand drawn, painted, cell animation.  This style of animation, while perhaps not conducive to the story that is being told, has it’s own artistry and beauty.  The animated movies of today are all 3D, computer-generated, and all very similar to one another.  And while a lot of these films are fine films in their own rights, ground-breaking, creative, and well told, we’ve lost something with the passing of the age of 2D animated movies.  If only for that reason, I can forgive Animal Farm it’s short comings.

Through my research, after watching the film, I found that there was a newer straight-to-video version of Orwell’s classic, one made with CG enhanced, live action animals.  I haven’t seen it, but I have to admit, I’m a bit skeptical.  The more I think about it, the more I believe that Animal Farm (the 1954 version), is a sort of document of history.  The IQ of animated films of today rarely reaches the heights of something like Animal Farm, so the very fact that something like it got made at all, at any point, is a good thing.