Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Vampyr (1932)


Upon his arrival in the town of Courteempierre, Allan Grey (Julian West), a young man fascinated by the supernatural, finds there is more going on than he anticipated. Taken in by a local mansion, he soon discovers the town is haunted by a vampire, which keeps people's shadowy spirits clung to this world.

If you were to grade a film solely on its visual strengths, it would be difficult to not give Vampyr a perfect 10. It's go it all. Effects well ahead of its time, great mood setting, strong use of scenery, and and all around aura of creepy it's difficult to shake. Dreyer is perfect at setting a tone to his film, beginning with the opening shot of an innocent Gray wondering into the town to the constant use of darkness and unique imagery. Though what ties it all together, allowing it to really stick with you, is that Dreyer's never compromises when it comes to the tone. He never cheapens out and utilizes quick scare tactics such as things popping out of nowhere, and instead he utilizes just natural eeriness of the situation. For example: shadows with no bodies, out of body experiences, and the notion of being buried alive.

Unfortunately for Dreyer, his desire to keep the film Silent in structure, with moments of dialogue, doesn't sit well with the tone. When actors do speak their voices constantly feel off, and the actors themselves are not the most talented, with West maintaining a single emotion pretty much throughout the run time. As well while I felt a sense of fear, Dreyer failed to really bring about a sense of danger. The scenes with the vampire are sparse, and not always effective. Instead it's the scenes not involving the vampires that I found most intriguing. The general mood is set so perfectly the vampire angle almost seems unnecessary at times.

Of course for all the negative, we'll never really know what Dreyer intended for us to see. Since it's release in 1932, mostly to much backlash, the original copy of Vampyr has long sense been lost, including Dreyer's personal edits following the first showing. All that exists now are compilations, combining the best from the few remaining copies, and what little dialogue could be salvaged. As such I feel a bit off about reviewing this film as it is presented too us. At best what we currently possess is a "best guess" of the film in its entirety, and as such any review is subject to much opinion, and guess work. Even then though it's impossible to deny the sheer impact of Dreyer's work, his skill behind the camera, and the mood with which Vampyr perfectly displays itself.

While it is unarguably masterful, and important in the development of the horror genre, Vampyr forces itself to overcome uninteresting characters with amazing cinematography and camera skill from director Dreyer.

5 better thoughts:

DEZMOND said...

Did you know that the word "vampire" actually came into English from Serbian language? Together with words "paprika" and "slivovitz" ;)Don't know why, there aren't many vampires around my neighborhood :)

Univarn said...

@Dezmond: 3 things.
1. Of course you would know that :P2
2. slivovitz????
3. You mean you're not a vampire!?

Alfindeol said...

I wasn't aware that all we saw here was a patchwork version of the film. It explains many of the issues with visual quality. It shouldn't be a surprise though. Dreyer's films are notorious for disappearing and popping back up in unexpected ways. Just look at Passion of Joan of Arc's history.

DEZMOND said...

2. "slivovitz" is the deadly plum brandy, Serbian national drink, and some might say a weapon of mass destruction if it's used at weddings and other drinking celebrations :))) Should I send you some? :)
3. last time I checked I wasn't, but the granny living at the corner of my street really does look oddly suspicious ;P

Michele Emrath said...

I don't know whether I should see it or continue to wonder about it...It holds such mystery. And you have me so curious!


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