An unusual feeling washes over me during each viewing of Vampyr. It’s a feeling I get after waking up from a bad dream and I start piecing together everything that happened, even though it doesn’t make too much sense. Like my bad dream, this film follows a different sort of logic. It’s a type of logic that only exists to disorient and confuse. Vampyr may not have the best plot or characters, but that’s not really what the movie is about. It’s about a superstition brought to life or it’s about a man experiencing a real life nightmare. Whatever it is, it can not be forgotten.
Allan Grey (Julian West), a man very interested in the paranormal, arrives in the village of Courtempierre and finds a lot more than he thought he would ever come across. Dancing shadows lead Allan to a mansion where the master of the house (Maurice Schutz) is shot and his daughter is afflicted by a mysterious ailment. Grey begins reading a book left by the deceased master in which he learns of the vampire, a evil being who survive on the blood of the living. Matters are made worse when the village doctor (Jan Hieronimko) arrives and corrupts the young woman even more. Allan is forced to face the terror to save the girl and her family from the curse of the vampire.
From the very beginning of the movie, the viewer is bombarded with strange imagery and creepy figures who serve a purpose unknown, and will never be figured out. Like the purposes of these mysterious figures, the whole universe of the movie is hard to figure out. The story starts almost immediately, and we along with Allan have to slowly try to piece together everything that is happening. Too bad it’s like trying to piece together a nightmare that you had when you were sick with a 102 degree fever.
I find the special effects in this movie much more interesting than the big blockbuster films of today. For 1932, these effects are out of this world. The most impressive scene is a party of dancing shadows that seem to fill an entire wall. To this day, I can not figure out Dreyer pulled this off so well. The other effects are also brilliantly executed, including one character having an out of body experience that was shocking the first time I saw it. I don’t know if I would call this a “special effect”, but to create the otherworldly atmosphere, a thin layer of gauze was put over the lens. That would be easy to fix in post production nowadays, but back then I can certainly recognize the ingenuity.
Speaking of ingenuity, let’s talk about the camera work. The panning and tracking shots are so precise and interesting, especially compared to the quicker editing style of the 20s and 30s. Instead, Dreyer prefers the long shot method and instead of cutting he simply pans to or tilts. It certainly fits better with the slow pace of the movie and is easy to love. This is also a very early sound film, and this is both good and bad. It’s bad because the audio when someone (rarely) talks sounds pretty terrible. I will say that it does kind of add an unintended creepiness to the entire movie.
I would put Vampyr in my top 5 favorite movies for a number of different reasons. It’s creepy atmosphere has held up great for the entire 81 years it has been around, and the audio/visual advancements that this movie displays are beautiful. If you aren’t a fan of silent films or films that have a pretty loose plot, than Vampyr probably isn’t for you. If you can enjoy these kinds of movies, than Vampyr is one of the best of its kind.