johnlink ranks VAMPYR (1932)

It is now October, which gives me a wonderful excuse to watch some horror movies. Additionally, I’ve been watching the awesome documentary series THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY as it airs on Turner Classic Movies. Along with the documentary, the channel is running some of the movies which are discussed. I’ve been DVRing the ones which seem interesting, and VAMPYR certainly fit that bill.


I watched VAMPYR (1932) on 10.1.13. It was my first viewing of the film.

Sometimes, you see a movie and you wonder “How have I never even heard of this?”

This is not to suggest that VAMPYR is an all-time great, or that it is leaps and bounds above its contemporaries.

However, strange is the fact that I haven’t heard VAMPYR in the conversation of earlier silent films like CALIGARI or NOSFERATU, nor in the conversation with the suprisingly inferior 1931 FRANKENSTEIN.

This was shot in Germany by the Dane Carl Theodor Dreyer. He is most famously known for his well known 1928 silent film THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC. His VAMPYR is not silent, though it may as well be. The sparse dialogue presents much less real information than the title cards and a book which two different characters read from. The film features folks who were not actors (as Dreyer preferred to do) , and they are asked to say very little.

The print which I saw was a mix of the French and German prints. None of the English prints are known to exist, and what survives are a couple of different cuttings from original copies. While this is not much different from a Director’s Cut today, I’ll just say that the version I saw ran roughly 70 minutes.


So what the heck is this thing anyway? Glad you asked.

VAMPYR is the story of a man named Allen Gray who comes to a small town. He is interested in the occult. Fortunately, plenty of weird stuff is happening. Shadows move freely among the grounds, eventually reconnecting with the person to whom they belong. Mysterious strangers wander into his room as he sleeps at night, and predict their own death.

The first act of the movie is truly and wonderfully bizarre. Certainly influenced by the aforementioned expressionist films, Dreyer’s VAMPYR differs from a movie like CALIGARI in its insistence that the world is so real as strange and dreamlike things happen within it. The shots are nothing like what was happening in Hollywood at the time. Long dolly shots are able to be used because the sound is so primitive and secondary.  Dreyer is able to avoid the sizable constraints of early sound cinema by being less than concerned about the quality of his sound.

The middle of this movie, as Gray happens upon a man (the one who previously foretold of his death) and his daughters. A vampire haunts attacks one of the daughters. This vampire is aided by the local doctor. This middle part of the film plays out predictably, if not strangely. Suddenly, late in the film, Gray’s spirit separates from his body and he foresees the future. He sees himself in a casket with an open window, and we get to watch a marvelous shot, pointing straight up, of a man being carried to his burial site as he passes lovely churches and lazy trees. The shot is haunting, beautiful, daringly unique.

He reconnects with his body and attempts to thwart the possible future. The climax is shocking in its brutality and necessity. There is nothing safe about the plot of this movie.

I’d hate to oversell this. Some of the exteriors are very hard to see and washed out terribly. The tension is very real, even if it is not as jump-out-of-your-seat scary as modern horror. But, to be blunt, this is much much better than modern horror.

So much of this movie was a revelation for me. I try not to look at movies as being from an era, but sometimes it is hard not to. Would someone not interested in black-and-white horror like this? I’d say they would probably get much more out of it than something like FRANKENSTEIN because of the sheer determination VAMPYR has to push its boundaries.

This is one to seek out folks. Give it 70 minutes. See if it effects you as it did me.



Simply put, the cinematography and shot selection in this are the most unique use of the medium I’ve ever seen in a black-and-white horror film.



~ by johnlink00 on October 2, 2013.

One Response to “johnlink ranks VAMPYR (1932)”

  1. […] The only perfect 10 for film was the 1932 horror film VAMPYR. […]

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