Monday, November 5, 2012

31 Horrors: Vampyr (#20)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

Well, it's easy to see why this has been deemed as so influential, isn't it? Per the Eureka! Masters of Cinema DVD sleeve, Carl Theodore Dreyer's Vampyr was deemed by Alfred Hitchcock as "the only film worth watching... twice", Vampyr is seemingly a very obvious inspiration to Psycho. Vampyr, also the inspiration to Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep in a far more obvious way, is about a man who leaves his life and descends into a fantasy horror upon arriving a motel in the middle of nowhere. What is Janet Leigh's Marion Crane is not a fantastical being on the run? Where does she end? A middle of nowhere motel. While Marion met a far crueller fate than Nicolas de Gunzburg's Allan Gray (the film's unofficial subtitle is The Strange Adventure of Allan Gray), Vampyr too descends into a mystery-solving horror ala Psycho, just with vampires instead of mummy-dressing psychotics. The similarities don't quite end there, however, as Hitchcock appears to have aped several slices of striking imagery too.

Vampyr is the first sound feature that Dreyer ever made, coming on the heels of The Passion of Joan of Arc. Having said that, Dreyer has stuck to a silent aesthetic for the most part and there is minimal dialogue as a result of the producer's wish to record the film in both French and Germany languages. Title cards are frequently used and many of the actors - unprofessional actors for the most part I've since discovered - work more in sinister glances than horrific speeches. Dreyer, too, uses static imagery more than the theatrical horrors of his international brethren. Vampyr's release was actually delayed in Germany so that Dracula and Frankenstein could be released first, certainly one of the earliest sign posts of the international film world working with a domino effect.

At only 72 minutes, Vampyr doesn't exactly dig deep into the vamp mythology, but it does manage to craft an excessively eerie atmosphere. As Allan Gray attempts to solve and break the vampire curse that has swept across his village without succumbing to it himself, Dreyer infuses it with enough images of wrinkled, doom-ravaged faces and sickle-wielding townsfolk to power several films. It's holds an incredible power, a spell if you will, that doesn't break until it's over. A bewitching and altogether stunning piece of brilliantly crafted cinema. A-

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