The first sound-film by one of the greatest of all filmmaker's, Vampyr offers a sensual immediacy that few, if any, works of cinema can claim to match. Legendary director Carl Theodor Dreyer leads the viewer, as though guided in a trance, through a realm akin to a wakingdream, a zone positioned somewhere between reality and the supernatural.
Vintage Gothic Delirium
- Vampyr: The Strange Adventure of Allan Gray review by Count Otto Black
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Although this is a sound movie, it's very much in the tradition of silent cinema. Perhaps due to synchronization problems in those early days, spoken dialogue is kept to a minimum, the more dramatic sound effects are unrelated to anything happening on screen, and plot exposition is done almost entirely through lengthy intertitles or shots of pages in an old book which conveniently explains everything. Which in its own way adds to the utterly bizarre atmosphere, since everybody wanders around observing extreme weirdness without saying very much. Like "The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari", "Vampyr" feels the need to explain to the audience that these irrational events don't necessarily represent any kind of reality, and may take place entirely in the mind of a young man who has become obsessed with vampire folklore. And it's certainly true that nothing supernatural occurs until after our hero has awoken in the middle of the night, so maybe it's all a dream. Which gives the film absolute freedom to be as Surreal as it wants to be.
And Surreal it most certainly is! A young man who coincidentally looks extraordinarily like H. P. Lovecraft is given a package containing the old book which conveniently explains everything by a complete stranger for no reason at all. Various aspects of the plot are then cryptically revealed to him by shadows cast by nobody, some of which show time running backwards, and quite a few of which are having a party just because they can. At one point he obtains a vital clue by falling asleep and having a dream within the dream (containing by far his best scene) which may actually be some sort of out-of-body time-travel, since a crucial part of it comes true.
Throughout all this strangeness, everybody appears to be seriously stoned. The oddly passive hero, almost all of whose job is done by the elderly servant who could be bothered to read that crucial book up to the page explaining how you kill vampires, wins the love of a girl with a thousand-yard stare who speaks in a flat baby-doll voice, and comes across as a lot less healthy than her semi-vampirized sister, who almost steals the whole film in a scene where she has to do absolutely nothing except look feral, but does it so magnificently that I wished the movie had been entirely about her - we're talking "Exorcist" levels of scariness here! She's certainly a lot scarier than the vampire behind it all, who fans of vintage sci-fi will instantly recognize as William Hartnell's Doctor Who in drag.
It's very old, it makes no sense whatsoever, and it's peculiarly fascinating because it's in a class of its own. And at only 72 minutes, it would make a great double bill with "Nosferatu".