Dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Cast: Julian West, Rena Mandel, Sybille Schmitz,, Jan Hieronimko, Henriette Gerard, Maurice Schultz
Were going a little on the obscure side today with the German produced Vampyr, a silent film that plays out like a hallucinogenic nightmare. Directed by Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer, Vampyr is an oddity in that despite being made in the era of sound is a silent film. Dreyer being accustomed to making silent films had difficulty making the transition, thus he made a semi-silent film that’s a peculiar blending of both eras. Like Chaplin’s Modern Times, there is sound but it is used sparingly and for the most part it is effective.
The film was funded by aristocrat Nicolas de Gunzburg who in exchange for his donation got to star in the film. Non-professionals made up most of the cast and with the low key nature of this film, it’s quite befitting. Gunzburg (using the alias “Julian West”) plays Allan Gray, a man fascinated by the occult who travels to a village in Paris cursed by supernatural creatures. These creatures being “Vampyrs” who lure people into committing suicide so that they can become servants for satan. Aside from that the story is kept fairly simple, unraveling at a slow but suspenseful pace.
The years haven’t been kind to the film’s so-so image quality, but that aside there’s a remarkable atmosphere being crafted here. Filmed on location in various French villages, it feels quite authentic and upholds a certain kind of eerie beauty. It really is more of an indie “Avant-garde” piece, possibly some visual metaphors tucked away and on that level it’s quite complex. Watching it was like watching a muddled nightmare that I enjoyed being sucked into.
The downside here is that this film was made in 1932. Compare that to the kind of horror films were being made in the states. Films like Universal’s Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy, those wore excellently produced, with great sound, and sharp image quality. By comparison Vampyr looks like a pile of garbage. Of course it didn’t have a big studio behind it like Universal, but it definitely feels severely dated. If it had been made ten, even five years earlier maybe it would’ve of received more recognition, but who knows. Either way it’s an intriguing curiosity for horror fans.