Vampyr (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1932)
This first attempt at sound from Carl Th. Dreyer separates cinephiles that love and cherish his later work Day of Wrath, Ordet, and Gertrud but also the admirers of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Without being perfectly bleak and mastered like, let’s say Ordet for example, or being completely genius and more linear like Nosferatu, Dreyer’s step into horror and fantasy with Vampyr isn’t a crowd pleaser but a “chilling masterpiece whose hazy, fuzzy beauty has only been enhanced by decades of wear and tear, by the degraded, scratchy quality of the surviving prints” – Ed Howard at Only the Cinema.
The story of Allen Grey (Julien West) who travels into a little village to seek out paranormal activities. Leaded to many manifestations of ghosts, vampires, and suspect shadows Grey learns from the encounters of the real and unreal world. Lots of Balkanic Countries believed to recent times that vampires really existed and that the body of people who behave badly in their lives would raise from their grave and attack them. The mysterious use of silence, music, and strange sounds makes this film an effective work of discovery of the mystery and myths.
The visual effects of the shadows and backward movements display a mastery and exploration of the possibilities of the media. A lot like one of Buster Keaton’s masterpieces Sherlock Jr. where the hero dreams of entering the picture and by many tricks of camera Keaton creates surprise and a level of mastery no one would have expect to achieve. The visual effects of Vampyr may look easy to redo with the technologies of today but in 1932 it was a lot more complicated to attain these effects and also experiment them and made them look like apparitions of spirits.
The structure of the story, not as traditional or evident as Nosferatu, reflects a certain state of wandering as the character of Grey wanders in the village. We are carried around not really knowing if it’s Grey’s reality or not. Just like how Vampyr is mounted clearly reflects this state of uncertainty and woozy.
This might not be as visually perfect as Ordet or Gertrud, but Vampyr clearly narrated as a silent film while not quite being a sound film is visually impressive and lets a permanent impression in the viewers’ mind. Vampyr is a film with soul or if you prefer with souls and the wears of time gave to it a eerie charm of a masterpiece from a great master. This is an unexpected journey that brings us places the common Horror movie wouldn’t care to go and be.