I am overposting today to overcompensate for taking a week or two off. This wraps up our voyage into the horrors of 1932 and it's thankfully a glorious end. Master director Carl Theodor Dreyer produced a film here that taps the most effective tropes of silent horror and provides them with the most successful farewell one could want. Is VAMPYR the last great gasp of the silent style?
Yes, it is. From the beginning, we're awash in images that recall the best genre work of Murnau and the gang. VAMPYR is alive with surrealism and expressionism, stuffed with distorted flesh and arcane monstrosities. It's not really valid to say that oddities didn't hit the screen after 1932, but I'd argue that they were never treated this way again, at least substantially. VAMPYR is hallucinogenic and dreamy, and you can easily see the stylistic difference in things like KING KONG and THE INVISIBLE MAN that followed. More straightforward presentations, far fewer shadows and fog.
The IMDB synopsis really gives you the gist of the whole film: "A traveler obsessed with the supernatural visits an old inn and finds evidence of vampires." This is not a very convoluted or busy plot. VAMPYR takes its minimal concept and drenches it in atmosphere and style.
Dreyer's especially good at using light and shadow to surreal effect. There's some interesting doubling happening here and it gets deliciously creepy when shadows stop following their casters. Basic, but very effective when done right, as it is here.
I also thought the giant expressionist sets were fantastic and they're used so sparingly that it really jars you when you get a scene that has this sort of look.
While we're sloshing praise around, let's talk about actors. We spend a lot of time with the occult-obsessed Allan Grey and the very Lovecraft-like Julian West plays the character very well.
He certainly reacts to all these weird situations, but his performance is more anchored than some of the actors, making it mean more when we get feral baby vampires...
Or shocked, trancey vampire bystanders.
The narrative's not as A-B-C as something like DRACULA, so we don't get your basic linear progression of characters. VAMPYR works more like a series of old folk tales, generally reusing the same basic ideas and themes, and, in a lot of ways, this works better as a film of images than a straight narrative. Even so, we get a very interesting and slow debriefing of vampire info over the course of the film...
THIS EXPLAINS EVERYTHING, Twilight, all of it! I sincerely loved the portrayal of vampires in VAMPYR. They're not just weird mammals who have a list of weaknesses and powers. The movie returns vampires to their shadowy origins. The vamp phenomena here cannot be anticipated or explained. It encompasses everything, up to and including a skeleton hand toting a bottle of poison.
I think that modern monsters, who tend to be a little too familiar and bound by books of rules, could learn a lot from VAMPYR. The unknown and unexplained will forever be the best way to generate fear and monstrosity.
Gee, I liked this a lot! You'd have to be in the right mood to really feel it, because it is very deliberate and kind of spacey. But I can't imagine too many films that would be a better fit for a slow Sunday of horror.
BEST HORROR OF 1932:
3. The Old Dark House
4. Island of Lost Souls
5. The Mummy
7. Murders in the Rue Morgue
8. White Zombie
9. Murder at Dawn