Special Edition, Criterion Collection
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A young man meets two sisters, a one-legged man and an old vampire. Directed by Carl Dreyer.
In this chilling, atmospheric film from 1932, Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer favors style over story, offering a minimal plot that draws only partially from established vampire folklore. Instead, Dreyer emphasizes an utterly dreamlike visual approach, using trick photography (double exposures, etc.) and a fog-like effect created by allowing additional light to leak onto the exposed film. The result is an unsettling film that seems to spring literally from the subconscious, freely adapted from the Victorian short story Carmilla by noted horror author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, about a young man who discovers the presence of a female vampire in a mysterious European castle. There's more to the story, of course, but it's the ghostly, otherworldly tone of the film that lingers powerfully in the memory. Dreyer maintains this eerie mood by suggesting horror and impending doom as opposed to any overt displays of terrifying imagery. Watching Vampyr is like being placed under a hypnotic trance, where the rules of everyday reality no longer apply. As a splendid bonus, the DVD includes The Mascot, a delightful 26-minute animated film from 1934. Created by pioneering animator Wladyslaw Starewicz, this clever film--in which a menagerie of toys and dolls springs to life--serves as an impressive precursor to the popular Wallace & Gromit films of the 1990s. --Jeff Shannon
Stills from Vampyr (Click for larger image)
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The main feature is VAMPYR about 70 minutes of dreamlike, black and white cinematography by Rudolph Mate is old (1932) but effectively "fog-drenched" when appropriate and over exposed (sickness, authentic detail, and sunlight) by intention. My subtitles of this German language film were very easy to read as were the placards (reminiscent of silent film) helping to explain the actions of main character Allan Gray (who aimlessly,it appears, wanders into a small town by chance(?) stumbling upon strange man who appears in his room stating 'Don't let her die" and then leaving a letter "to be opened after my death".
Yes, this VAMPYR (Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer) does get a bit confusing, but the images from the start (man carrying scythe down by the lake awaiting the Ferryman...) are stark and memorable. I found it most intriguing the main character (Gray) begins to hallucinate (or is he dreaming or is he dead?) appropriately after giving blood to help revive an ill young lady. There is a coffin carrying scene that is quite effective and chilling. There is also a realistic, close-up dying scene. The acting in VAMPYR (except younger innocent sister ... her blank stare is rather clueless not scared or stunned) seems European "realistic". These actors seem to avoid that overdone silent movie stereotype. VAMPYR is an Expressionistic German horror film.
I watched the 1934 short MASCOT first and came to the conclusion Tim Burton MUST know who the Director Ladislas Starwicz is. A portion of this 26 minute "puppet animation" reminded me of Nightmare Before Christmas. Again good images in a painstakingly frame by frame filming process. Mascot was a bit disjointed in its editing process but the modest length did not bother viewing much at all.
VAMPYR had one 10 second sequence where audio went silent (effectively brooding atmospheric music quite effective, never a "Hollywood" corny detriment) when it was not supposed to.
And be sure and notice why the strange "shadow" people wander on the walls (or dancing 'without a body' on the lake). Yes, sometimes the dead are given a purpose.
There are a couple of fairly original 'local vampire' legends in this very Expressionistic, atmospheric tale.
I would not try to convince someone to buy VAMPYR if you haven't seen if before, but if you have you should be satisfied to know the visuals and subtitles are easy on the eyes for a better understanding of what is going on.
The movie is a fairly slow paced affair and a bit thin on plot, but it builds an unsettling atmosphere and presents cinematography unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Despite the age of the film, it contains some images that I found downright creepy and unnerving. A patient viewer will be rewarded by being drawn into a nightmare world among the best that expressionism has to offer.
I found the entire thing so compelling and strangely beautiful that I watched it again immediately after the first viewing. I enjoyed it just as much the second time around. Because the movie is only 73 minutes long, it wasn’t really that tough to endure back to back viewings. It really is a great looking and innovative movie for its era.
While the special features on the Criterion blu-ray are fairly sparse, the video essay by Casper Tybjerg is definitely worth a look. It was also a smart move to create an alternate version of “Vampyr” with English text as a special feature. The text in that version was much easier to read than the subtitles in the featured version.
Normally I wouldn’t mention the packaging in my reviews, but the packaging is worth mentioning because it looks great. It’s on a par with the exclusive editions of mainstream releases. The book that is included is a very nice addition as well. I wish Criterion would use these kinds of slip covers and deluxe-looking packaging for all their releases. The packaging really is lovely and helps to make this one of my most treasured blu-rays. My evaluation is for the Criterion Collection blu-ray and is four and a half stars.
Too bad it arrived absolutely crushed. It came in an amazon yellow envelope and it probably got trampled. The outer box was totally crunched, the nice book you get was totally bent to hell, the clear plastic that holds the disc was shattered. Ruined the disc as well.
Amazon took care of it as expected though. Absolutely classic movie, with beautiful packaging! Definitely worth the price to own!