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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Countdown: Vampyr

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 2:00 PM

(In anticipation of the coolest day of the year, this month-long series will offer one recommended horror flick a day up through Oct. 31.)

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VAMPYR (1932). The notion of cinema as dreamscape has rarely been realized as exquisitely as in Danish writer-director Carl Theodor Dreyer's moody vampire tale. Loosely based on Sheridan Le Fanu's story "Carmilla," the movie carries all the logic of a restless sleep filled with surreal thoughts, many of which tip into pure nightmare. Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg, the film's financier, adopted the pseudonym Julian West to portray the movie's leading character of Allan Gray, a young man who shows up in a European village rumored to be housing a vampire. The bloodsucker turns out to be an elderly woman named Marguerite Chopin (Henriette Gerard), and she's aided in her dastardly deeds by the local doctor (Jan Hieronimko). Also figuring into the proceedings are an estate owner (Maurice Schutz) and his two daughters (Sybille Schmitz and Rena Mandel), one of whom has already fallen under the spell of the vampiress. Vampyr was Dreyer's first sound film, yet not surprisingly, it plays like a silent feature, with the emphasis on visuals rather than dialogue. And what visuals! There are images here that are staggering in their artistry: the shadow of a one-legged servant separating from its owner and taking off on its own; a ferryman wielding a scythe next to a fog-encrusted lake; the ultimate fate of the doctor, undone by (spirit-assisted) machinery even more imposing than the wheels and cogs encountered by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times; and the POV shots that find a prematurely boxed Gray witnessing the activities occurring just above the glass window on his coffin. For all its accomplishments, the movie can't match F.W. Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu (still the greatest of all vampire films), but its atmosphere of pervasive evil retains its power to grip viewers.

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