Vampyr (1932) * Worst Hit *


Criterion makes the best DVD Covers - agreed
Criterion makes the best DVD Covers - agreed

Genre: Fantasy Horror (Germany, France)

Starring: Julian West, Sybille Schmitz

Directed By: Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion of Joan of Arc • Gertrud)

Overview: A man visits an inn, searching for the supernatural. A woman becomes ill, thirsting for blood. Could any of this have to do with a dead man's diary that describes the curse of the Vampyr? (GUESS!  GUESS!)

Look at that poster! Read that title! Look at how special you'd be, being one of the few, the very few, who've actually watched this obscure film, my submission for the 1001 movie club this month.

Let's begin with why I chose this film as my first entry to the 1001 movies film club.

1.) First and foremost, I chose the film based entirely on my the master list. At the time of selection, simply put, when asked "What do you want to review?" the obvious answer was "next on my list is Vampyre."

2.) It's easily accessible through Netflix, since it's most certainly not a new release.

3.) I've got to admit that a part of me wanted to begin this club with what could potentially be a cautionary tale. The first 101 films on that list were made before 1937, meaning 10% of this list's films is 'officially super old', with almost 50 of them being Silent films. Aside from immediately expanding other members' horizons away from 'obviously safe' films, I wanted the group to know that there may sometimes be some hard watching. Still, I never expected this.

Reading other members' posts about this film, many of them admit that they aren't into 'old films'. Some even go so far as to criticize themselves. "Vampyr is clearly out of my grasp for now"; "impossible for someone with modern movie watching sensibilities to really get caught up in..." Before I actually review Vampyr, let me address these people first:

Hello fellow 1001 Film clubbers. I'll never call myself an expert on films, but I can prove that I've reviewed 100 Silent films, and I've seen even more. I love them as entertainment more than education, for kicks over elite knowledge. Films of the early 30s I've never been big on, what with sound and camera technology going through severe growing pains,  but let me say that the reason you didn't get immersed in this film is not that you're out of context, it's because it's just plain bad. I'm sorry for picking such a shitty film to start you on. I know my 'old film', and this is not one of the good ones. PLEASE do not let this sway you from viewing other incredible movies made in the years so near to this one, like 1931's City Lights, M, and La Chienne, 1932's Freaks and 1933's King Kong. I should have known better. I've long ago come to realize that if I haven't really heard about a movie, there's usually a damn good reason, and Vampyr is no exception. I officially promise - for a while at least - to NOT be the guy other members know as the group's buzzkill. If ever I chose an 'old film', it'll be because I know beforehand that it's popular and good. You have my promise that my next pick will be fun!

Now onto the review.

An incredible special effect: a man's shadow catches up with him, then they travel as one.
An incredible special effect: a man's shadow catches up with him, then they travel as one.

Carl Dreyer of The Passion of Joan of Arc's fame, makes a valiant attempt at capturing fear, myth and suspense in Vampyr, but in doing so he forgets to actually include a story, and for as gorgeous as it is, for as much as the special effects are absolutely astounding, especially for 1932, Vampyr is nothing more than a camera following a two-dimensional everyman through a series of pretty montages from the inn's front door to the end credits.

The "story" is one of a man seeking the paranormal in an inn of strange happenings. We (literally) follow this man in his fear-filled adventure as he explores the abundance of strange sounds, shadows... and Germans. Eventually, yes about half an hour into this technical mess of a poorly overdubbed talkie, we learn of the vampyre myth, we learn, not that we didn't know already, that that creepy old lady is a vampire and she cursed a pretty young thing and made her freaky. From here we (again literally) follow our everyman in a fever dream montage of death / limbo / harrowing experience / self-doubt and ends the only way we knew it could, with our hero performing one act. You, dear reader who hasn't seen Vampyr, already know what that act is, thank you Carl Dreyer, for making the fantastical blatantly obvious.

Everything we learn about vampires is written in a man's journal. In classic silent film style, we read the pages ourselves as intertitles. This is when I realized that the most enjoyable part of this film was the reading. Thanks again Carl for making me chose books instead of what I thought was my favorite medium. Next time just write a book and spare us being dragged through 75 minutes of Hell.

Here I was thinking Vampyr would be this engaging, fun and gothic horror film in the vein of The Phantom Carriage. Vampyr was sadly, in a word: brutal.

Images painted on the wall of the inn, a danse macabre that inpires - sadly Vampyr is a film that leaves one flat
Images painted on the wall of the inn, a danse macabre that inpires - sadly Vampyr is a film that leaves one flat

Performance: 6 Cinematography: 9 Script: 5 Plot: 3 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 58% (A Total Drain)

I was recently asked to update my master list of 1046 films to identify which films were booted to make room for 2007's entries. Imagine my surprise when those edits only began as of 1988. Bah! I was going to go into a rant about which early films are just on the list as 'milestone films' and that I most definitely could have died not having seen them without regret, but it's just making me angry! Granted, Vampyr is not Within Our Gates, it's no Foolish Wives, but it's too damned close.

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Everyone needs to stop apologizing for their film selections (your the 2nd one to do so), the whole point of this thing is to watch films we either haven't seen or normally wouldn't think to watch. You're never going to love them all. Frankly I really didn't like any of the films too much. Vampyr was my 2nd favorite out of the four, and its the only film out of all four that got a relatively spread out opinon from everyone, the other films most seemed to absolutely love or didn't care for, this one got a little bit of everything. Therefore I think it was a good pick.

You're so good to me!

I'm honestly not apologizing out of genuine guilt. I just read that so many of the club members were first timers in the realm of the ancient and I just didn't want them sullied to hate them all!

I understand that, still no apologies needed. I think everyone realizes what they're getting themselves into when they join the club. More silent films will inevitably pop up in the future, maybe people will have more appreciation for them after having sat through this one. And really most of the reviews I have read people didn't hate the film and found things to appreciate about it, they just didn't necessarily enjoy it, slight difference.

Don't apologize. I was thrilled that someone picked a silent film. I am likely to do that next since so few people are well versed in them and there are an awful lot of them on the list.

Fey, who you commented early, is actually decently versed in silent film, but mis-spoke I think about it being "impossible" to grasp. Our first foray into silent film was "Birth of a Nation" so we already knew what we were in for.

Personally, I loved Passion of Joan of Arc, so I was excited. This didn't quite do the trick for me, but I am glad I have seen it. Nosferatu will remain my favorite, silent, vampire film for all time it seems.

Also, thanks for updating the list. I am considering updating mine as well to show these changes.

Yeah! No apologizes (after all, I picked Raising Arizona). I didn't like this film at all, but I'm totally glad I saw it, and it gets me out of my comfort zone, which is the point of the club. Good selection.

Yeah, I knew what I was getting into with the whole silent film thing, but you know, not everyone can be a winner. I also heard a rumor that there is actually no orginal cut of the film so maybe that's why it made no sense/didn't have a plot. More than likely though, it never did.


Enjoyed your review!

I enjoyed the film, but I thought it did a bad job of telling its story, so I was lost and confused pretty much the entire second half. Great visuals though: that screenshot with the shadow had me wondering how they did it without CGI, incredible stuff.

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