Based on Sheridan le Fanu’s short story collection In a Glass Darkly this 1932 horror flick was director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first film with sound. Shot completely on location in France, a gorgeous washed out, soft focus gives the film a dreamlike quality that enhances the atmosphere and gives a wonderfully creepy quality.
Allan Gray is a dreamy wanderer who arrives at an inn and rents a room. While he sleeps an old man enters his locked room and leaves a package with a note saying ‘to be opened on my death’. Gray decides to go for a walk and takes the package with him. Shadows guide him towards a castle where he sees more shadows dancing on their own. He walks on to a manor house and looking through the window sees the old man who left the package. The old man is suddenly shot. The servants ask him into the house where Gisèle the old man’s daughter takes him to the library and tells him that her sister Léone is gravely ill. They see Léone walking outside and follow her where they find her unconscious on the ground with fresh bite wounds on her neck.
Remembering the package Gray opens it and finds a book about demons called vampyrs. He learns how vampires can force humans into submission and realises that Léone has been a victim. Allan Gray and Gisèle discover the mysteries of the village and set about breaking the curse.
There’s a strange old women, a crazed doctor and someone being suffocated with flour,. There are many surreal moments and I must admit to finding the plot quite difficult to follow but as it was shot as a silent film (the limited dialogue was added afterwards) much of the story is told with title cards and they and the readings from the book (the one in the package) made it easier to follow!
First shown in Germany, Vampyr opened to largely negative reviews, it was edited and shown in France where it received a more mixed response. Now though it’s considered a classic, the photography is beautiful and the disorienting visual effects create an atmosphere that plays on our fear of the unknown.