Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932, Germany/France)

Vampyr is both an incredible early exercise in horror, and one of Carl Dreyer’s finest achievements. Almost 100 years after its original release, there is still something undeniably creepy and surreal about this film. Dreyer plays with our understanding of how film works, and in doing so adopts a radically different film language than his contemporaries. As critic Tony Rayns has noted, you would not understand the geography of the setting in Vampyr from watching the film. The editing and position of camera angles is such that we never for sure know where we are, or whose perspective we are adopting at any given time.
Needless to say, the audiences at the film’s original release in 1932 did not enjoy this new film language. Vampyr was met with boos at its German premiere. Austria was no better, provoking such an unpleasant response that police had to be brought it to keep the audience under control. Dreyer reportedly made a number of edits to the film after these screenings. The experience was so unpleasant that he had a nervous breakdown, and would not make a film for another 11 years.
Vampyr is filled with imagery that is iconic as it is unsettling, from the the ominous shots of a man with a scythe, to the fantastic sequence of the protagonist Allan Gray imagining himself being buried alive. It is also a profoundly beautiful film, with a gauzy, hazy, dreamlike style - sometimes using literal fog to create this effect. Like Bunuel and David Lynch, Dreyer was able to capture the logic and feeling of a dream in cinema. It almost does the film a disservice to write a description of Vampyr, as the narrative is secondary to the overall feeling created. A masterpiece that will likely endure for another one hundred years.



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