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Vampyr

(French/German, 1932, 65 minutes, b/w, 16 mm)

Directed by Theodore Dreyer


Cast:
Julian West..........David Gray
Maurice Schutz..........Lord of the Manor
Rena Mandel..........Gisele

The following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Pennsylvania State University:

In VAMPYR, the sleeper walks, and the vampire wears a human face. And a sad, compelling evil becomes indistinguishable from good. “David Gray” (Baron Nicholas de Gunzburg, who also produced the film) stalks the world at night, a lonely wanderer in search of answers to questions he cannot seem to ask. One night, he arrives at an inn in a small village. Deeply curious about the world beyond the doors of the inn, he goes again into the night, this time on a voyage that will end in his slipping over a nearly invisible boundary, into the world of the unfinished, the unclaimed, the undead. The schizophrenia inherent in the mythology of the vampire, a world split into day and night, life and death, kindness and savagery, is exemplified by director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s decision to portray his vampire protagonist as literally split in two. And just as the barrier between sleep and waking is a permeable one in VAMPYR, so do we find ourselves increasingly drawn to identification with young David. This is no vampire as villain, in the classic Hollywood mold; this is a vampire as unwilling victim.

To help us understand David’s confusion, his terror and his fascination, Dreyer keeps us continually disoriented. The film’s surface retains a sleek, impenetrable whiteness, unmotivated by verisimilitude. Odd noises appear on the soundtrack: bells ring, a child cries, voices mumble and moan. Actors slink through the darkness like wraiths, and the camera silently glides after them, pursuing them deep into their half-realized obsessions. “I wanted to create the daydream on film and wanted to show that horror is not a part of the things around us, but of our own subconscious mind,” said Dreyer of these deft, ambiguous cinematic moves.

Perhaps most provocative is the sexuality that Dreyer freely associates with vampirism, an element used by later versions of the vampire tale, such as the films of Hammer Studios and THE HUNGER. But the effortless transition between sexual styles in VAMPYR is a way of signifying that, in life as in death, the categories we believe are our destiny may be as random as a cloud passing over the moon on a dark night in the Carpathian mountains.

— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.