From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Vampyr is a French-German film by Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer, released in 1932. An art film, it is short on dialogue and plot, and is admired today for its innovative use of light and shadow. Dreyer achieved some of these effects through using a fine gauze filter in front of the camera lens to make characters and objects appear hazy and indistinct, as though glimpsed in a dream. The film, produced in 1930 but not released until 1932, was originally regarded as an artistic failure. It got shortened by distributors, who also added narration. This left Dreyer deeply depressed, and a decade passed before he able to direct another feature film, Day of Wrath. Film critics have noted that the appearance of the vampire hunting professor in Roman Polanski's film The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) is inspired by the Village doctor played in Vampyr.
The plot is credited to J. Sheridan Le Fanu's collection In a Glass Darkly, which includes the vampire novella Carmilla, although, as Timothy Sullivan has argued, its departures from the source are more striking than its similarities.
The actual events are rather obscure and dominated by a weird, dream-like atmosphere. Allan Gray (despite the film's German title), a youth travelling in the French countryside, puts up at an inn in the surroundings of a solitary castle, near the village of Courtempierre. He begins to see strange sights that are impossible to explain (notably shadows leading a life independent from that of their "owners").
Having been asked for help by the Lord of the Manor, Allan visits the castle and becomes involved in the tragic events that are befalling the family. Leone, the daughter of the Lord of the Manor appears to suffer from anaemia, but her father already suspects that her illness is caused by a vampire. The Lord of the Manor dies, seemingly of natural causes, but actually as a result of the actions of the servants of the undead. As Allan reads an old book about vampires, he learns more and more about these creatures, while the fiend continues to assault the young woman.
The vampire turns out to be an extremely evil old woman, Marguerite Chopin, who died in mortal sin and caused a similar epidemic a quarter of a century ago. She is conspiring with the village doctor who helps her to gain access to her victim; her ultimate objective is to cause the victim to commit suicide and thus deliver her to the devil. Eventually, Allan and an old servant stake her, and her servants also die. At the end, Allan is seen leaving together with Leone's sister, Gisele.
An art film, made in 1930, it was initially made a silent, but was converted to sound during production and was released in three languages, English, French and German, resulting in the amount of dialogue being limited. Admired today for its innovative use of light and shadow, Dreyer achieved some of these effects by using a fine gauze filter in front of the camera lens to make characters and objects appear hazy and indistinct, as though glimpsed in a dream.
It exists in prints of various lengths and arrangements of scenes, and under alternate titles including Vampyr: Der Traum des Allan Grey (The Dream of Allan Grey) It was copyright in the USA in 1934 as The Vampire and exhibited theatrically with the title Not Against the Flesh in 1935, both by General Foreign Sales Corporation. A re-edited, English dubbed version, The Castle of Doom, in the very late 1930s by Arthur Ziehm Inc..
Dreyer's cast was predominantly made up of amateurs (only Sybille Schmitz and Maurice Schutz were professional actors). However, this was unimportant to a director who was more concerned with creating an atmosphere of dread than staging a play. Dreyer reportedly told his cameraman, "Imagine we are sitting in an ordinary room. Suddenly we are told that there is a corpse behind the door. In an instant, the room we are sitting in is completely altered: everything in it has taken on another level; the light, the atmosphere have changed, though they are physically the same. This is because we have changed... This is the effect I want to get."
No sets were constructed for the film. The inn and castle were real, and the building of dancing shadows was a disused ice cream factory. Originally the village doctor was to die in the mire of a marsh but Dryer changed it to a white, dust-filled flour mill after he observed the inside of a plaster of Paris factory thick with fine powder. White is the predominant colour, representing the loss of blood, and seen in the use of white mist, white flour and the white buildings and skies that recur throughout the film.
- Julian West as Allan Gray
- Rena Mandel as Gisele
- Sybille Schmitz as Leone
- Jan Hieronimko as the Village Doctor
- Henriette Gérard as Marguerite Chopin
- Jane Mora as The Nurse
- Maurice Schutz as the Lord of the Manor
- Albert Bras as an Old Servant
- N. Babanini as His Wife
The film, produced in 1930 but not released until 1932, was originally regarded as an artistic failure. It got shortened by distributors, who also added narration. This left Dreyer deeply depressed, and a decade passed before he able to direct another feature film, Day of Wrath (Vredens Dag).
- Film critics have noted that the appearance of the vampire hunting professor played by Jack MacGowran in Roman Polanski's film The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) seems to be inspired by the Village Doctor played by Jan Hieronimko in Vampyr.
- The obscure, low-budget, 1990 film Vampyre, starring Randy Scott Rolzer and Cathy Seyler, is a semi-remake of this film.
- Marguerite Chopin reappears as one of the Brides of Dracula in the novel Judgment of Tears (1998) by Kim Newman, who would ten years later contribute an essay to the Criterion collection DVD edition of Vampyr.