With Vampyr, Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer's brilliance at achieving mesmerizing atmosphere and austere, profoundly unsettling imagery (as in The Passion of Joan of Arc and Day of Wrath) was for once applied to the ... more »horror genre. Yet the result-concerning an occult student assailed by various supernatural haunts and local evildoers at an inn outside Paris-is nearly unclassifiable, a host of stunning camera and editing tricks and densely layered sounds creating a mood of dreamlike terror. With its roiling fogs, ominous scythes, and foreboding echoes, Vampyr is one of cinema's great nightmares.« less
One of the best vampire movies ever gets the Criterion treat
Mike Liddell | Massachusetts | 04/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Director Carl Th. Dreyer's ( The Passion of Joan of Arc (Criterion Collection Spine #62)) 1932 film Vampyr is as relevant a silent film (even though there is some talking) as the recent movie Once is a musical. Meaning, in Once when they bust out into song, they're actually musicians so it makes sense and when there are words on the screen in Vampyr it's because a book about vampires is being read. It works. The film plays like a black and white photograph come to life. It is filled with eerie dreamlike atmosphere and scares that hold up even now. This possibly could be the scariest vampire film rivaling Nosferatu, notably the part when one of the daughters goes from terrified about losing her sole to an evil smile. Even though it is made a decade after F.W. Murnau's classic Nosferatu (The Ultimate Two-Disc Edition) and one year after Browning's Dracula (75th Anniversary Edition) (Universal Legacy Series) this could still be the first movie about vampires. In Nosferatu and Dracula the story tells of a specific vampire and in Vampyr it is about vampires in general. Vampires here are shadows we see not a guy without a shadow (very effective and eerie). They are people who have done wrong while living and are not at rest. They are companions of Satan and have minions working for them that could look like anyone. You can see how many countless vampire movies this has influenced, none of which come close to this masterpiece. I found the concept of the ending reminded me of Guillermo Del Toro's great Pan's Labyrinth [Blu-ray] but I won't go into detail. If your familiar with Criterion or any of their horror releases this should be great and the original dvd could use improving. I've listed the Criterion features below from their website. Another reviewer did the same but I usually like to include features in my reviews as well.
CRITERION DVD FEATURES (DIRECTLY OFF CRITERIONCO'S WEBSITE) Special Features
* - SPECIAL EDITION DOUBLE-DISC SET FEATURES: * - New, restored high-definition digital transfer of the 1998 film restoration by Martin Koerber and the Cineteca di Bologna * - Optional all-new English-text version of the film * - Audio commentary featuring film scholar Tony Rayns * - Carl Th. Dreyer (1966), a documentary by Jörgen Roos chronicling Dreyer's career * - Visual essay by scholar Casper Tybjerg on Dreyer's influences in creating Vampyr * - A 1958 radio broadcast of Dreyer reading an essay about filmmaking * - New and improved English subtitle translation * - PLUS: A booklet featuring new essays by Mark Le Fanu and Kim Newman, Martin Koerber on the restoration, and an archival interview with producer and star Nicolas de Gunzburg, as well as a book featuring Dreyer and Christen Jul's original screenplay and Sheridan Le Fanu 1871 story "Carmilla," a source for the film
Back to top » Film Info 1932 75 minutes Black & White 1.19:1 Dolby Digital Mono 1.0 Not Anamorphic German"
Vital contribution to early film.
Johnny S Geddes | Enlgand | 03/13/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is truly outstanding. It's possible to even go so far as to call 'Vampyr' the last in the line of German cinema expressionist movies; evidence to suggest the influences of 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' and 'Nosferatu' certainly abounds throughout. First things first; the film has no tangible plot to follow except that the storyline is loosely strung on a young man's attempt to fight vampirism in a small (Danish?) town. While the lack of plot sounds bad in the abstract, there is so much strength in the movie's other attributes that the issue of story structure soon fades in the viewer's mind. Imagery provides 'Vampyr' with its rasion d'etre. One haunting, shadowy image segues into the next to make for a horror experience that's far subtler than what Universal Studios was starting to crank out at the time of this film's release. Director Carl Dreyer apparently shot some of the scenes through gauze to enhance the ghost-like wispiness of the sequences. The effect is utterly magical. Combine that with kinks like reverse filming (man 'digging' the grave), an eerie cello/clarinet-led score as well as a virtually absent dialogue and you've got a film that addresses horror on a high level. It's important to understand this as you watch, although the scenes are consistently textured enough to remind you that you're trapped in a black and white nightmare experience for the entire duration of the picture. The film seems to become more ethereal every minute and by the time the vampiric crone is done away with, the viewer has been through too harrowing an affair to be able to see how a semi-happy ending can make those feelings of disquiet ebb away. It must be said that it took guts to produce this film. 'Vampyr' breaks many conventions, including its [by then] out of fashion clinging to the techniques and dogma of silent cinema when everyone else was rushing forward to flourish in the new glory of sound. But Dreyer's film is also revolutionary against the conventions of film-making in general. Even Weine's 'The Cabinet of Dr Caligari' didn't dare to be so progressive as to do away with a storyline (its one is very complex, in fact). What results is a work as bizarre in form as Dali's 'Un Chien Andalou' and yet coherent and accessible through its ability to convey fear in a language higher than the banal or everyday. Thankfully, the print was transferred extremely well onto videotape by Timeless Video. It's just unfortunate that the DVD has apparently failed so miserably in that department. Old films need to be treated with a great deal more respect by DVD and video companies. 'Metropolis' has suffered just as badly if not more at the hands of insensitive corporate butchery. It's just too bad that there aren't many video companies headed by people who genuinely care about the nature of their bread and butter. The consequences are very sad indeed: these are classic movies, not toys. Put it this way; would you just pick up a 70 year-old pensioner and throw him any old way onto a......... .........maybe that's a bad analogy but you get the idea. Hopefully, so will they."
Atmospheric Horror At Its Best.
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 08/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Carl Theodor Dreyer's VAMPYR has long been one of my favorite early horror films but until just a few years ago it was impossible to see it in a decent print. The old Image DVD had the best picture quality but was marred by black box subtitles in Gothic script. Still it was the best there was until now. This new Criterion transfer is not only the best so far it will probably be the best from now on as I can't see anyone else wanting to redo it. It's not everyone's idea of a horror film especially today when poetry and atmosphere are not high on the list of priorities for most horror movies (or most movies in general). The film was not a success in 1932 causing the director to abandon filmmaking for 11 years although it quickly developed a cult following.
The scenario inspired by Irish Huguenot writer Sheridan Le Fanu's novella CARMILLA and influenced by F.W. Murnau's NOSFERATU is probably the closest cinematic equivalent of a dream captured on film. It certainly influenced Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST which was 14 years later. The film is actually more of a nightmare as it follows a young protagonist through village inns and country estates on the trail of a female vampire who against conventional tradition is old and wizened rather than young and beautiful. Strange things happen. Shadows have a life of their own, the hero watches himself from above as he is buried alive, and it contains one of the strangest death scenes ever filmed which was borrowed from D.W. Griffith's A CORNER IN WHEAT. The entire film was designed to be pale with lots of fog and scenes shot through gauze over the camera lens. It was photographed by Rudolph Mate' who had done Dreyer's previous film THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC. Once seen it cannot be forgotten. Like most vivid dreams you remember it whether you want to or not.
This new transfer of the German version (there were French and English ones as well) looks as good as any restoration I have ever seen and the cleaning up of Wolfgang Zeller's music score, so essential to the overall mood, is nothing less than astonishing. Like most Criterion releases it comes with a plethora of extras including the original shooting script and a complete copy of Le Fanu's story CARMILLA so that you can see how much they varied from it. There is alao a second disc containing deleted scenes, a detailed analysis of the film and a radio interview with the director. Yes it's expensive and no it's not for everyone but if you appreciate cinema as poetry and are seduced by black and white images than this is the movie for you. Be advised though that Dreyer shot this film as a silent and added the music and effects later. There is less than 10 minutes worth of dialogue overall and no one says more than a few words each time they speak."
Poetry While Paint Dries
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 08/26/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Danish film maker Carl Dryer (1889-1968) is considered among Europe's finest directors, the creator of innovative 1928 THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC and the legendary VAMPYR--but some cinematic legends are best left recalled instead of revisited, and such is the case with the latter film. Produced in 1930, released in 1932, and very loosely based on the novella CARMILLA by Sheridan LeFanu, VAMPYR does indeed have moments of great poety, but on the whole the film is akin to watching paint dry.
The plot of VAMPYR is trivial, the tale of a young man who stumbles into a mysterious estate where one of two sisters is under vampiric attack. The appeal of the film is actually in Dyer's truly remarkable cinematic ideas, ideas that are often described as surrealistic in execution. Shadows move independently of those who cast them--or exist without any source at all. Fog and mist drift strangely through the landscapes. A skull moves of its own accord. And most spectacularly, the young man experiences an out-of-body vision in which he foresees that he himself will fall prey to the vampire unless he can destroy it.
These moments are memorable indeed and there is no doubt the film is visually stunning. Unfortunately, it is also very, very, very slow. In theory, this slowness exists to intensify the poetry of the images and a crawling sense of horror; in actual fact, however, I found it simply slow, and that the extremely languid pace undercut both poetry and horror to a very significant degree. Fans of the film--and it has many--will no doubt curse me as a Philistine and declare VAMPYR is too fine to be appreciated by the likes of me.
As in most instances, the Criterion Collection edition offers a group of interesting bonuses. It is worth noting, however, that the film itself is not in pristine condition (it never has been); even so, this is easily the best print in circulation. Recommended for hardcore cinephiles, but most others should give it a miss.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer"
Germanic ideal of a vampire's bloodlust- UNDEAD UNDEAD UNDEA
W. T. Hoffman | Pennsylvania, United States | 05/24/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This cinematic piece of visual poetry defies easy catagorizing. Is it a vampire film? Oh, sure, but if you merely desire a little bit(e) from the traditional DRACULA story, you will soon find yourself disappointed. It could be argued, that most of this film, is a sleepwalker's hazy recollections in the morning, or a hallucination by a skitzoid young man, instead of a surreal odyssey into the damnation of the living dead, doomed to drink blood to remain young. This main protagonist, Herr von GRAY, is a sensitive man, given to the study of occult books, fantasizing about vampires, ghosts and death. He arrives at a small, poor country Inn, and that's when all surreal HELL breaks out. The director, DREYER, was famous in the French avant guarde film world, such as it was back then, for his previous film "THE PASSSION OF JOAN OF ARC" from 1927. OH, and guess who designed the sets, and was the art director for VAMPYR? None other than Herman Warm, who designed sets for CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, an undeniable masterpiece of German pre-WWII "Bauhaus" influenced set design. If just WARM were involved in this film, as art director, it would still be well worth seeing. Oddly enough, the director chose to work with mostly non-actors, for the authenticity. He did use two actual actors. The lead was an actor, a wealthy German Baron who also co-produced, and financed the film. He plays the lead man, GRAY, who entering the Inn, finds that he has entered a world of nightmares. He looks out the window, and sees a man with a scythe going on a boat. ITS THE SPECTOR OF DEATH ITSELF. Next, a man's shadow walks down the stairs outside the Inn, and sits down on a bench. Then, a man also walks up to the bench, sits down, and we realize that the SHADOW BELONGS TO THE MAN WHO JUST SAT NEXT TO IT. Then, they leave together, with the shadow reconnected to the man. SO, a land of SHADOWS is brought into vivid existence, thru clever technical effects. Another oddity to the film, is a near total lack of dialouge. That helps the film, but having a lot of back story to read as pages flash up on the scene, one wonders why it was not given to some kind of voice over. No doubt the presence of very little dialogue throughout the film, only lends to that uneasy, dreamlike quality. Often, one is tempted to see this as a silent film, but of course, there is SOME talking going on here and there. Next a woman is seen having her blood sucked from her body. We end up reading a book with GRAY about Vampires, and the local legend of an Evil woman who turned the whole town into vampires, before she was stopped. Extreme close-ups of the bizarre gothic wood cuts in the book, and then, a long shot thru a bookcase with a human skull once more visually brings in the leitmotif of death, and the German romantic ideal of death. Next, we have some screens of a man seen pitching hay, but the film is running backwards. Apparently, in this dream nightmare world, time and action can move backwards. All parameters of logic are ignored, and the nightmare advanced on the viewer. Then its dark, and we are moving around outside, in dense, impenetrable fog, searching for the master vampire's grave, so they can be killed while she sleeps. This part of the film had been overexposed from light leaking into a faulty camera, but the director liked the foggy, washed out effect it gave the print, so he used it for all the outdoor shots. Yes, deliberate filming in the "lo-fi" esthetic...I loved it. So, the film goes on like this, with one part of a nightmare leading to another. One of the women in the Inn, who was bitten by the vampire, needs blood. One of the GREATEST turn arounds on the typical vampire film occurs here. Instead of your Van Helsing doctor who gives us the medical/metaphysical information to defeat the vampire, we have instead a doctor who assists the vampire in finding suitable victums. So, the duplicitious doctor bleeds Gray, in order to help save the dying young woman's life, who is really a transforming vampire, needing her first blood meal, at Gray's expense. However, this puts him into some kind of psychic link with the vampire, that nearly kills him. Next, we see Gray sitting down, and his image splits, with a transparent doubleganger image, or his dream-spirit, going off and wandering around the inn, and the local town. By this time, even tho I have watched the movie at least three times, I start to lose the thread of whatever logic or daytime sanity I use the plot for. In fact, I can only imagine that the surrealist film Le Chien d'Andelou influenced the Director, with the non logic of the images in relation to the movement of the film, and the unexpected, nauseating horror of some of the scenes. (Gray's bloodletting was especially creapy, mostly because of the crudeness of the hypo used to get blood. )That leads me to the most bizarre, unsettling image from the entire film. In the end, the evil Doctor who was in cahoots with the head vampire is killed. He runs, or is chased, into an old mill, filled with an impossible amount of gears and strange machinery. He flees into a cage-like chamber, that looks like an elevator shaft. He becomes locked in this fenced in little area, when the waterwheel starts up the gears, and flour from above starts to fall down upon the evil doctor. At first, he is covered with flour, and he looks like a ghost. Then, the flour slowly fills up around him, until he's buried alive far above his head in flour. Again, i can't figure out how they shot some of the last images, because it DOES look like the doctor is buried. As the images become more threatening, more surreal and disturbing, as the film unfolds, the best is saved for last. The buried alive scene, is a visual crescendo of the macabre. That image seems to unlock a very primal fear of death, for those of us who are buried whole. Premature burial is the probible basis of some of the horror surrounding the idea of the dead living..or being alive in your own tomb. So the cinematic images of death, and blood, and ghosts, disembodied souls, vampirism as a deadly disease, and premature burial just leaves you unable to shake what seems to be a nightmare. Our subconscious wakes and screams, and you try to piece the frightening images into some semblence of linear logic. But that negates the dark beauty of this film. This film belongs to the realm of night, and nightmares, of frightening, ambiguous images that function as a cinematic memento morti . Anyway, I highly recommend this film. This new print far improves on the older DVD edition of the film by "Blackhawk film". They mastered off a badly damaged print, with punched out words appearing during the film's transistion between reels, and a soundtrack which was so faint and fuzzy, you might as well have been listening to a silent film. Naturally, they fixed those horrible gothic lettered subtitles, which took up a third of the scene as well. The Blackwater edition does give you a little extra, to compensate for their poor print they used to master from. It's a little piece of stop animation filmed in 1934 by a Pole, called The Mascot. Altho you wont have that, you will have what is (besides Murnau's original NOSFERATU, and Leghosli's DRACULA), one of the greatest meditations on Death, and the vampire legend, ever filmed. I'm glad Critilion restored the film, and gave it the full deluxe treatment. A word of advice, however--this film seems to grow on you. It might sink its teeth into you the first night you watch it, but it needs to feed on your subconscious, drop by drop. After you spend a few more nights watching the film, slowly absorbing the morbid imagery, you will be hooked. Only then will the film, as all great works of art, transform you into something new. (Let's hope its a better informed cinema fan, and not a....creature of the bad pun. That would be a hellish fate.)"