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Almost Silent Cinema - Vampyr (1932)

Posted: December 19, 2019

Last night I watched Vampyr, a kind of Ambient horror film from 1932. I’m still processing it, and there’s a lot to unpack. Read some of my thoughts, and watch it for yourself here.

Watch it

Context

Considered one of the greatest films of all time, Vampyr is a 1931 horror film written and directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, and inspired by Through a Glass Darkly. Vampyr is Dreyer’s first Sound Film, and carries with it many of the motifs of early silent films. It was planned to be made in German, English, and French (as was the standard in Europe at the time), but was only ever released in German and French.

Most of the film is silent, anyway. The dialogue that is there is sparse. There are silent style intertitles pretty often.

The original prints of the German and French language versions of the film have been entirely lost, the English version was likely never completed. This is a restored print made from incomplete and damaged copies of the French and German versions of the film. It is as close to the original release as we are likely to ever find.

Many scenes are very fuzzy. This was mostly intentional, as much of the movie was shot through a sheet of gauze placed several inches in front of the camera.

It was shot in response to the early Universal Horror entries, but it has a lot more in common with Nosferatu than with Dracula.

Review

Wow I barely know what to say about this one. It is Tense and Suspenseful from the outset. Even when you don’t know what is going on, it crafts a claustrophic, frightening presence. It oozes style.

And … That’s about it! The film is suspenseful, artful, beautiful, and meandering. Think Jim Jaramusch, but without a rye joke in site. It’s a beautiful movie. Some of the scenes are genuinely upsetting. It’s not Scary exactly, not in the modern way, but it is effectively haunting. There are images from the dream sequence that I still can’t get out of my head.

Ultimately, it’s a succesful film. It’s cereberal, experimental, and unlike anything that was hapenning in film in the early 1930s.

I won’t recommend it without reservation, as I did for the last several films I reviewed, but if you’re a student of film, of horror, of art this is a must watch.

I … felt it. I don’t know that I liked it, exactly, but I felt something while watching it.

Other thoughts

This movie is a wild ride.

The director stuck a sheet of Gauze in front of the camera! Who does that? Who would even think to do that?

Half the movie is just shadows moving around on the ground! Who does that? That dream sequence! That … flour bath! It’s a movie full of haunting imagery, weird imagery. I am not at all surprised that this movie was a huge flop when it was originally released. The public came to this expecting Dracula and got an art film, but I think it’s fair to say that the influence of this movie can be felt in nearly every art film that follows it.

I can almost imagine a world where cinema evolved from this movie, and it’s a world that still leads directly to Only Lovers Left Alive (which, let’s be honest, is the greatest vampire flick of all time.)


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