Vampyr - Vampyr (Blu Ray) [Eureka Entertainment - 2022]
Appearing in the early 1930’s German film Vampyr stands as one of the defining and important films in early horror cinema. The film tells of an obsessed-with-all-things-supernatural young man, who arrives at a strange and isolated inn. Here he observes all manner of low-key creepiness and unease, before being guided to a mansion house- where a teenage girl may/ or may not be in the thrall of a vampire. Here from Eureka is a new Blu Ray release of this creepy and haunting classic- taking in a new 2k scan of the film, two new commentary tracks, and a few other extras.
Vampyr- aka The Vampire, Not Against the Flesh, Castle of Doom, The Strange Adventure of David Gray. Appeared in the year 1932- it was helmed by Copenhagen-born Carl Theodor Dreyer. He had fourteen feature-length credits to his name- these went from Danish melodrama The President (1919), early feminist comedy/ drama The Master of The House (1925), historic biography drama The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), witch hunting drama Day of Wrath (1943), and family drama Ordet (1955).
It opens with rolling text detailing the film's lead character Allan Grey (Julian West)- we find out he is a young man fascinated with the supernatural and all things connected. After the credits have rolled, we see Allan- a smartly presented, if somewhat haunted twenty-something man arriving in a small riverside hamlet. He takes a room in the hamlets only inn, which is somewhat of a strange and shadowy building- where there are few if any guests. His room's wall is dotted with macabre/ creepy paintings and pictures. And one night while slumbering, an older man enters his room- placing a package on his sideboard, and on it, he writes 'do not open until I’m dead'.
The next day Allan makes his way around some of the buildings of the hamlet- and everything seems off and eerier, he encounters the local Dr (Jan Hieronimko) a wild-eyed, floppy-moustached man who is both shifty and a little sinister. He also comes across a selection of living and body-less shadows- these lead him through woodland to a mansion. Just as he arrivals an older man with a lit candelabra is shot down inside the house- it's the man who placed the package in Allan’s room the night before. He dies from his injuries, so he opens the package- finding an ancient book about vampires, and throughout the rest of the film, this is quoted/ read from. In one of the rooms of the mansion lies Léone (Sybille Schmitz) who has strange bite marks on her neck and is very weak- with some strange ailment no can dialogise, accept the strange Dr who asks Allan to help with his blood.
The film runs the one hour and thirteen-minute mark- and really seems to drift between a creepy dreamland and reality, with at points the plotting seems a little confused. It’s certainly a slow-paced and very moody affair, and at points, it does slightly drag- but there is no doubt that there is both some truly haunting imagery and symbolism on display, as well as moments of chilling unease and dread. There are early/ first examples of so many tried and tested horror tropes here. And on the whole, Vampyr is way ahead of its time, and I can’t really think of much comparable from this period.
Moving onto this recent Blu Ray release- and we get a new 2k scan of the picture, and this considering the film is now ninety years old, is largely fairly good with much of the stock looking relatively clear/ defined- though of course, the whole film has a slight hazed/ out-of-time feel, which of course enhances the atmosphere of the film. Moving onto the on-disc extras- and we get a good selection of things- first, off we get two new commentary tracks, one by critic and programmer Tony Rayns, and the second by filmmaker and Vampyr fan Guillermo del Toro- I listened to the former. Ryans begins by talking about the film's Berlin premiere- which came nine months after the film had been completed, and how this frustrated the director. He talks about elements cut from the film after the premiere- due to it not getting a very good response from the audience. Moving on he talks about the director's early silent work, and how he made the transition into talkies. He discusses that though the film is a talky, it’s very much a visual affair. He talks about a few stories that are seen as an influence on the film's plot, and Vampyr’s unorthodox structure/ flow. He discusses if what we see is real, or in the fevered imagination of the film's lead, and mentions the film's locations, which were north of Paris. Later on, he talks about the disconcerting shot use/ type of filming used. We get talk about the cast- many of whom weren't professional actors, and we get to mention of strange off-screen sound details. They are snippets of interviews with the director from when the film first appeared. The building of disquiet created by the use of shot structure, and much more- so a very well-researched, and most interesting track.
Otherwise on the extras front we have: A visual essay by scholar Casper Tybjerg on Dreyer’s Vampyr influences(36.06), film critic/vampire story author Kim Newman on Vampyr( 22.24)- this is as always most worthy/ interesting extra from Newman, he starts off comparing it to other vampire films & how it stands out, talks about the film been a vanity project as its lead actor financed the film, mentions the use of real locations for atmosphere. He talks about how he sees the film about been a horror of whiteness/ bone, points out impactful scenes that have been mimicked, and much more.
There are two new onscreen interviews with music and cultural historian David Huckvale on the film's score (36.30) and its adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu (11.30), The Baron – a short MoC documentary about Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg (14.25), two deleted scenes from the German cut (3.50), and Carl Th. Dreyer – a 1966 documentary by Jörgen Roos (29.59).
The finished release comes with a hundred-page book- this features rare production stills, location photography, posters, the 1932 Danish film programme, a 1964 interview with Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg (producer and actor "Allan Gray"), an essay by Dreyer on film style, and writing by Tom Milne, Jean and Dale Drum, and film restorer Martin Koerber.
I had of course been aware of Vampyr before this release- but had never seen it, so I can certainly say this wonderful new edition of the film from Eureka is most certainly the way to see it. But do not hang around- as it only has a worldwide edition of 3000 copies!.Roger Batty