When when Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer directed “Vampyr” in 1932, he was far from knowing the influence that he would have on the horror genre. What is now called one of the best horror film of film history, was denounced by critics and audience at the time of its release in 1932, and was a huge financial failure.
Vampyr tells the story of Allan Gray, a student of the occult, visiting a countryside town of France. After being attacked by various supernatural entities, he discovers the presence of “vampyres”. Those deadly creatures, who suck blood out of children and young adults to stay alive, pushes mortals to commit suicide and thus doomed to serve the Evil.
In this film, where most scenes happens at night, Dreyer creates an eerie mood, shown to us through a very washed out look. In order to achieve this aesthetic, his cinematographer Rudolph Maté ( The Passion of Joan of Arc, To Be Or Not To Be, Lady From Shanghai), shot the film through a piece of gauze, hold few feet away from the lens. As we always sees it in Dreyer’s close-ups, he preferred to cast mostly non-professionals actors, giving us to watch, real faces full of expressions.
One of the most remarkable element in the film, is the thin boundary between dream and horror that maintains during the whole film. The supernatural entities are represented through the form of shadows, that our main character follows, and thus taking the audience through new eerie decors. However, the destruction of the human soul by the vampyres, makes more think of todays horror/torture film feeling that we can find in the “Saw” films. “Vampyr” gives the feeling of watching a nightmare awake, with a little bit of Freud’s unheimlich, “something that stepped out of darkness, but should have stayed there”.
“Vampyr” is available in a beautiful Criterion edition (http://www.criterion.com/) .