Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011: Vampyr (1932)

Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011 heads over to Germany, or maybe a fantasy land version of Germany to be more precise!

Screenplay By: Carl Theodor Dreyer & Christen Jul
Directed By: Carl Theodor Dreyer

I remember when I was a young lad and I began to discover horror stories. The stories were of a varied lot, not just your typical vampire and werewolf mix. One particular brand of story that interested me were a series of novels the library had that were called the Poe series. I’ve never been able to locate these books sense, and as time has passed I’ve come to the realization that most likely the Berkeley Public Library labeled the novels as something they weren’t. Either way, this Poe series of novels focused on the fantastical side of horror, and no, I don’t mean the aforementioned werewolves and vampires per se. Sure, often times the subject matter would be that of zombies, ghouls, and goblins, but the Poe series wasn’t interested in the concrete facts of a story. The Poe series of novels, maybe they were novellas now that I think about it, created an atmosphere of the fantastic. The worlds of these stories didn’t make sense, but they were captivating in their ability to not make sense. The Poe novels were like a fever dream slowed down to the extreme, and I could never shake from my mind the the created worlds of those novels.

As I grew older I maintained a focus on the world of horror, other than a dark period of a few years in my early teens where I forsake horror for reasons I went into in my Halloween review from a few years ago. Most of the horror I would find was clearly defined, making sure to hit all the beats and stops that horror fans have come to expect. Every once in a while though I would find a story that cared about atmosphere and the exploration of the macabre before anything else. Vampyr is one such film, it’s very far removed from a traditional horror film. There are moments designed to be scary for sure, there are vampires obviously, but the world Carl Theodor Dreyer has created is ambiguous and vague in its intentions. The world of Vampyr is full of the macabre, and it uses its macabre atmosphere at will without any seeming method behind its employment. That’s not to say Mr. Dreyer has created a film without purpose, a trip to a fantastical world drenched with atmosphere is his intention and the purpose of the film I believe. All the same, Vampyr focuses on its atmosphere as well as a sense of macabre wonderment and dread, which can be, and in this case is, more horrific than the usual tropes found within horror.

Mr. Dreyer does some truly amazing things with shadow and sound in Vampyr. The shadows move on their own accord at times, they have an existence that is impossible to peg down. There’s one scene in particular where we watch a shadow attend to some duties then march to a bench to join back up with the man whom the shadow is a mirror of. I was stunned by that sequence, and left with a contented smile on my face by the way Mr. Dreyer treated said sequence. He didn’t play the moment up, he didn’t go for the usual horror movie moment. Mr. Dreyer allowed the shadow’s journey to play out casually, and that made its actions all the more eerie and the atmosphere of the film all the more horrific. The sound in Vampyr reminded me very much of a haunted house excursion. Noises come out of nowhere, they break the silence intermittently, the sounds are indistinct and hard to locate. I was instantly reminded of the many trips I have taken in my life to haunted houses, and I loved every second of the way Hans Bittman, the man in charge of sound, integrated sound, and silence, into Vampyr.

I do wish that Mr. Dreyer didn’t feel the need for such long interstitial narratives. Those do work against the ambiguous nature of the rest of the film, every time the screen went black and an encyclopedia of words filtered onto the screen I sighed. Vampyr did not need that much explanation, Mr. Dreyer had already set the mood perfectly. A shorter interstitial with less information would have worked in every instance, and allowed the atmosphere to remain as fantastical as it was in the non-interstitial moments. I knew the story from the actors faces, Sybille Schmitz’s face and wide eyes told me all I needed to know about what was happening to her character. Similarly the facial expressions and unsteady gait of Julian West told me all I needed to know about the current mood of the film. The elements for a great horror film were in place without the copious amounts of mythos delivered in the interstitials.

Overly worded interstitials aside, Vampyr is an excellent film. The horror of Vampyr is found in its atmosphere and its willingness to present the macabre in as eerie of a fashion as possible. Those looking for a typical horror presentation should look elsewhere, Vampyr is a very different type of horror movie. I enjoy all subgenres of horror, except for those I have decreed as torture porn, but I get giddy when a movie like Vampyr comes along. It’s hard to place it within a horror subgenre because it has elements of many but uses those elements in its own special way. I enjoy the macabre, I enjoy movies that feel and sound like a haunted house, I greatly enjoyed Vampyr.




6 responses to “Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011: Vampyr (1932)

  1. Mark Middlemas

    Another one I must check out. Thank you good sir.

  2. No problem my man, let me know what you think. ūüôā

  3. I couldn’t help but chuckle when reading your final paragraph and noticing that you wrote ‘when a film like Vampyr comes along.’ In know what you meant, but it still came across as a little bit funny. When a movie from 1932 come along…

    About the film. I have a copy on DVD, watched a few years back and was thoroughly satisfied, although remember mostly that it was about the atmosphere, much as you yourself explained. Maybe I wasn’t as enamoured with that fact as you. The effects are mind boggling and the movie looks handsome, but I wasn’t blown away by just atmosphere.

  4. These last few years I’ve found myself looking more and more for atmosphere in the horror that I watch, perhaps that explains why the usage of atmosphere in Vampyr had such an effect on me.

  5. Pingback: Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011: The 2nd Annual Bloody Machete Awards | Bill's Movie Emporium

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