VAMPYR  -  Friday August 14th, 2009

Allen Gray is neither awake nor dreaming, as he stares down into a coffin.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht – staring one of my favourite actors Bruno Ganz (who went on to become Hitler). But its Downfall is that it just isn’t supernatural enough. Everything is a bit too clear. The general drive of Millennium People is the essential ambiguity and indeterminacy of the world, and Werner just isn’t there.

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 Vampyr is a different story. It is a film about a dapper young man, Allen Gray, who becomes deeply fascinated in the supernatural, to the point where he becomes no longer able to tell the difference between reality and a dream-like state that we are told is the precipice of death. To get away from it all he goes off hunting butterflies in the hills, and as day turns to moonlit night he takes a room at a deserted hotel.

Allen Gray is presently awoken by a strange man who implores him to help save his daughter, and then disappears. Going to investigate, he is led on a terrific journey through eerie forests, ruined chateaus, into the path of ghosts, vampires and ghouls. The spirits of the dead float as long shades – in one scene the shadow of a seated soldier becomes detached and carries itself off to commit a murder, before returning. The special effects are really amazing, and I still wonder how they managed to project onto the walls of an empty factory the dancing shadows of a whole ballroom.

A soldier’s shadows goes off to commit a murder.

A great scene from the forest, typical of the film’s soft and ephemeral light.

As an aside, I only just realised how unjust the whole vampire system is. Legend has it that someone who has committed terrible sins in life, such that they cannot find peace even in the coffin, will rise again – living forever, prolonging their life by drinking the blood of children and virgins.

Ok, fair enough – bad things should happen to bad people. Makes sense. But what about the poor virgins? Then they become vampires forever too. What did they do to deserve that? I mean it pretty much ruins any future hopes of marriage, except for the Bride of Dracula, of course. And where do God and the dinosaurs fit into all of this, anyway?

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