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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Film Review: Vampyr (1932) Carl Theodor Dreyer

Here is a classic forgotten by many. And how this German masterpiece and I have avoided each other is beyond me. 

Well maybe it has to do with all the missing and destroyed prints: most of the German, all the English, Dutch and French prints have gone missing or have simply been destroyed by natural causes. Thank the Dear Lord at least one print survived and received the restoration necessary to keep it alive.

This tale of the undead begins when traveler Allan Gray checks into a small inn in the village of Courterpierre and wakes to find an old man who leaves behind an ominous package. The label reads 'do not open until I am dead'; the wrapping contains an old volume about the lore and existence of vampires.

This is a subject new to our hero, a man who bears a resemblance to H. P. Lovecraft. But a subject he finds himself obsessed with and unwittingly submerged in. 

The village is under attack by a malevolence so powerful and unique that no one seems to understand its power. Weird character appearances follow with flesh and blood individuals at times divorced by light and shadow in a story chock full of shadow men and women who lead Mr. Gray and us closer and closer to the evil at hand.  

The cinematic use of shadow as a 'special effect' is simple and genius. Quite frankly it is natural and uncorrupted by today's cartoony CGI.

The style of this film bridges silent and talkie. Much exposition is still made with scene cards but dialogue is spoken. The acting is subliminally expressive, again, falling in that gap between silent and sound. But the acting, as with the writing, is solid. 

What you find is a realism to this film, not a parlor display, in the dirt, dust and blood presented. The folklore is rich without being pedantic and the tension and creeps build. 

This is not your carefully plotted parlor vampire but something uniquely European. The monster in this production hearkens back to the original collector of souls, that of the old hag. A matriarchal vampire in 1932 was groundbreaking and believe me her appearance in this plot continues to rattle the planet.

The plot twists are many. The menace is unchecked. You will have to subtitles, but hey it is the some of the best reading you will ever know.

It is in the public domain and readily accessible. Dreyer's vision of the undead is a linking of the modern and impressionistic and cannot be missed. It should be studied. It should be cherished and taken seriously along the greatest horror films of any day.

Watch it. 

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