The Principles: Carl Theodore Dreyer (Director). Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandelle, Sybille Schmitz, Jan Hieronimko
The Premise: When occult student Allan Gray (West) rents a room in a cozy old inn, he finds himself face to face with a vampire.
Is It Good: I think good is an understatement. When the credits rolled on it after my first viewing I found myself relatively blown away. Made just a few years after the birth of the “talkie,” Vampyr (also known as Not Against the Flesh) was an almost poetic blend of the new and the old. Because adding the vocals in post was such a difficult process, Dreyer chose to use as little dialogue as possible and relied heavily on silent-era text cards that delivered exposition in a very sleek, classy, literary way – which left room for atmosphere, tension and horrific eeriness in spades. Menacing shadows, foreboding imagery, editing tricks that would have made an audience at the time lose their shit, sound design that turns a darkened living room equipped with surround sound into a spookhouse of the highest order – every single element of this film is a success. The words “master class” definitely apply.
Is It Worth A Look: Um, yeah. Not only is it an incredible insight into generational film-making, but it‘s also an important entry into the history of the vampire movie as a subgenre. Granted, you‘re gonna want to educate yourself a little to be able to get the most out of it (Criterion has a great little essay on the subject), but even so, it’s still a movie that stands on its own merits should you choose not to put the extra effort in. It’s on Netflix Instant at the moment – do yourself a favor and add it to your queue.
Random Anecdotes: Sybille Schmitz’s blood-lustful grin is one of those cinematic images that’s gonna be burned into my brain forever. You can definitely get a feel for a lot of pre-cursors to what would become Hitchcock and Argento trademarks.
Cinematc Soulmates: Nosferatu. Tod Browning’s Dracula. Every other vampire movie to come out afterwards. Except for Twilight, because fuck Twilight.