Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932)

The opening intertitle tells us that “Vampyr”‘s protagonist, Allan Grey, is a young adventurer whose studies of devil worship and “vampire terror of earlier centuries” have made him a “dreamer, for whom the boundary between the real and the unreal has become dim.”  Well, clearly that’s what Dreyer was going for, but there is a point where the dimming of the boundary between the real and unreal just becomes utter chaos on the screen.  Allan Grey’s little adventure through that funhouse that I guess is supposed to be a haunted inn or something is meant to abandon all sense of logical time progression in favor of bizarre, inexplicable images that are the stuff of subconscious nightmares, but to pull that off (a compelling abandonment of all logic), you at least need images and situations that are interesting and stick with you, and for me “Vampyr” failed in that department.

I guess some images are interesting, like the staging of that scythe wielder in the image I posted, or the shadow of the peg-legged guy moving independently of the actual person…but honestly, not that interesting.  I mean, Freder’s nightmare in “Metropolis” did the scythe-wielding harbinger of death thousands of times better years before “Vampyr,” and countless horror movies after “Vampyr” would establish a mood of suspense and foreboding thousands of times better.  And it doesn’t help matters when our protagonist, Allan Grey, is just going from room to room or reading a book with that same George W. Bush look of apathetic stupidity for 75 minutes (had to get a political jab in there with the election a couple weeks away 😛 ).  I guess that’s what you get when your movie’s producer, Baron Nicholas De Gunzberg, anoints himself with the sexier name of “Julian West” and buys himself the lead role.  Seriously, if the Razzies existed in 1932, our good Baron would be the frontrunner.  If Allan Grey is truly supposed to be the audience’s stand-in as observer of “Vampyr”‘s bizarre goings-on, then I guess Dreyer succeeded, because I was as bored as the main character seemed to be.  

What “Vampyr” was was a bit of a benchmark in technique, using clever lighting and camera angles to make shadows move without their hosts, or conceptually interesting scenes like when Allan’s ghost (don’t tell me why his spirit separated from his body, though, because I didn’t understand the reason, nor did I really care) watches his own body being moved in a coffin, the camera switching between the ghost’s and the body’s point of view.  They’re interesting ideas and try to establish mood, but really nothing eye-popping.  When a movie devotes almost a fourth of its run-time to the protagonist just reading a book about vampires, no shots, no matter how interesting, can save pacing that’s that terrible.  A boring protagonist, boring quasi-romance story with the bitten sisters, shots that’re interesting on paper but end up…boring, and intertitles of that vampire book and exaggerated acting/staging that tell you that Dreyer was hesitant to leave the safe confines of silent cinema.  If “Vampyr” is supposed to be the stuff of nightmares, all it did was put me into a dreamless sleep 😦 .


2 comments so far

  1. Eli on

    You should be ashamed of yourself.

  2. asdf on

    I completely agree. Really boring.

    Ordet, on the other hand, is a masterpiece.

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