Carl Th. Dreyer's "Vampyr" is one of the best horror movies ever made. It transcends the stereotypes of its own genre, established with contemporary films like "Dracula", and becomes a cerebral, perceptive tour de force.
You can tell that Carl Th. Dreyer was still stuck in the age of silent cinema when he made "Vampyr". There is almost no dialogue to the film and the sound editing of the film has only a few moments of bells clanging and the like. For the most part, it is a silent movie...and that's what makes it great. Because the viewer comes to expect the silent film dramatic music, when the sounds of a woman gasping for life fills our ears, it's quite chilling.
Dreyer probably wanted to make silent films forever, but his transition to sound films is stunning and he utilizes the technology perfectly.
"Vampyr" begins with a young man named Allan Gray traveling to an estate named Courtempierre. He's obsessed with the supernatural and we have to assume for why he's traveling....presumably there's something at this estate that he believes is haunted.
What "Vampyr" doesn't do that almost all other horror movies do is offer an explanation. On the first night at the house, Allan's room is broken into by an old man who speaks in cryptic sentences. He tells Allan that "she" can't die. While Allan is pondering over who "she" is, the man leaves a package and instructs that it shouldn't be opened until he has died.
Allan goes looking for the paranormal, and he finds it in abundant supply. There's a shadow man with one leg who haunts the walls. Then there's a mysterious figure who seems to be the looming bad guy of the town, the imposing villain.
By the title, we have to assume that this figure must be the village's vampire; but we don't know that.
What's great about "Vampyr" is the way that it abandons a narrative. Allan, though the main character, doesn't witness some of the crucial genesis moments. He comes across a girl who's been bitten by a vampire...now subject to the whim's of the creature.
As opposed to the "Nosferatu" movies, "Vampyr" falls in the middle...let me explain. "Nosferatu", the original, made sure that the audience understood that the vampire wasn't human. In the remake, Herzog made the vampire deeply human and tormented. "Vampyr" seems to imply that the vampire is not quite human, but not a creature either. To be fair, the film doesn't give the bad guy enough screen time for us to understand.
We can't explain the shadows that move, the doors that close, or the sounds of children screaming. The ambiance of the film is one of the greatest hauntings on screen.
"Vampyr" isn't that scary, but it is chilling and remains visually striking. The way that Dreyer fashions that orchestral horror makes "Vampyr" seem more like a dance than a film.
Allan is a likable protagonist and seems to embody the everyday guy.
But then, the film shocks you. Abandoning the more straight-forward approach of films of that age, "Vampyr" becomes indescribable. It bridges so many genre gaps and its influence can immediately be seen stretching from "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" to Wes Anderson.
"Vampyr" is so entertaining, so riveting, and so poetic.
Posted by Micah Jones