Friday, June 4, 2010

Foreign Fears: Vampyr- Der Traum des Allan Grey (1932)

Vampyr- Der Traum des Allan Grey (1932)
Review by Nickolas Cook

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Cast: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz, Rena Mandel and Henriette Gerard

Danish Carl Theodor Dreyer directed one of the most stylish and eerie horror films of the genre. “Vampyr”, filmed entirely on location outside of Paris, France, in a real castle, is the story of a young man traveling across country, who gets caught up in a surrealistic nightmare of death and bloodsuckers. Based loosely on Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’, this was Dreyer’s first talking picture, and you can see his still heavy reliance on sight over sound. He finds some disturbing images to convey unease and death throughout the picture instead of having his characters talk about it. Such as when shadows move independently of human hosts or in weirdly inhuman fashion. The accoutrements of death are everywhere- coffins, graves, crosses, black veils on pale faces. The silent film aesthetic helps to deliberately structure the tale and the pace of the narrative as well.
But in many ways it’s Dreyer’s use of sound that make for a creepy atmosphere for which this film is so well known. From the ringing bells to the ticking clocks, we get a sense of slow death in the world around our young hero, Alan Grey. There’s a dreamlike quality that reminds one of similar waking nightmare movies, such as ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and ‘The Shining’. You never know what’s real and what’s in Grey’s imagination.
The strange fluidity of the camera adds to that sense of floating above the narrative.
This was released recently on a Criterion version. Expensive, but well worth it for the serious horror collector. You will find this vampire movie creates more atmosphere than any ten knockoffs being regurgitated into theaters these days.

--Nickolas Cook