Cast & Crew
Carl Th. Dreyer
A mysterious, somnambulistic young man wanders into a village where a castle owner's daughters are endangered by an elderly vampire and her associates.
Carl Th. Dreyer
Carl Th. Dreyer
Carl Th. Dreyer
Carl Th. Dreyer
For many years Vampyr (1932) was regarded as an unfortunate detour in the career of Danish director Carl-Theodor Dreyer between his two masterpieces, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and Day of Wrath (1943). At the time of its release, Vampyr had a mixed critical reception; like Dreyer's previous film, it lost money and Dreyer was unable to make a feature film again for over ten years. Since then, thanks to the efforts of film historians and critics such as William K. Everson and Tom Milne, the film's reputation has risen dramatically; today it is often considered one of the most artistically accomplished horror films ever made.
After the financial disaster of The Passion of Joan of Arc, the Societe Generale de Films, with whom Dreyer had a contract, refused to fund his next project. This was due no doubt in part to the company's weak financial state after expensive failures such as Dreyer's film and Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927). Dreyer sued the company for breach of contract and won the case in 1931.
Eventually, the Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg, a young Dutch nobleman with a passion for cinema, was cast in the lead role under the pseudonym Julian West. He also agreed to produce Vampyr when the original backing fell through. Work progressed slowly; shooting lasted for approximately a year, starting in the spring of 1930. The sound was recorded by July 1931 and the film was released in May of 1932.
An international film if there ever was one, Vampyr was directed by a Dane, produced by a German studio (Tobis-Klangfilm), and filmed entirely on location in France, in the towns of Senlis and Montargis outside of Paris. Separate German, French, and English-language versions were prepared for distribution. The Baron de Gunzberg recalls: "Each scene was shot three times for the French, English and German versions whenever there was any dialogue involved. It was shot silent with all of us mouthing the words. The sound was put in later at the UFA studios in Berlin, as they had the best sound equipment at that time." Today the film survives in a variety of cuts, most of them incomplete to varying degrees - including a severely cut, redubbed 60-minute English-language print entitled Castle of Doom. The print being shown on TCM is the German-language version, the one Dreyer reportedly preferred.
Vampyr is above all a stylistic tour de force. Dreyer and his cinematographer Rudolph Mate made effective use of the morning fogs rolling through the landscape and the mist rising up from the ponds to add to the ambiguous mood of the picture. Dreyer also insisted on filming the exterior scenes only at dawn because, according to Baron de Gunzberg, "the light gave the best effect of sundown." The film's unique look came about accidentally; Dreyer says: "We had begun shooting on the film - starting with the opening scene - and after one of the first screenings of the rushes we noticed that one of the takes was gray. We wondered why, until we realized that a false light had been projected on to the lens. We thought about that take, the producer, Rudolph Mate and I, in relation to the style we were looking for. Finally, we decided that all we had to do was deliberately repeat the accident. So after that, for each take we arranged a false light by directing a spotlight hung with a black cloth on to the lens." Dreyer's use of sound is equally remarkable; what little dialogue the film has is fragmented and at times difficult to hear, becoming part of the hazy sonic landscape of tolling bells, barking dogs, and echoing calls. The soundtrack was constructed entirely in the recording studio; even the animal cries were created by skilled human imitators. Dreyer also deliberately plays with the concept of a cinematic point of view throughout, especially in the celebrated sequence where the protagonist dreams of his own burial, which he witnesses as a gaping-eyed corpse through a small window in the lid of his coffin.
The Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg moved to the United States in 1934 and worked for magazines such as Harper's Bazaar and Town and Country, before becoming the longtime senior fashion editor for Vogue. Sybille Schmitz, who plays Leone, the sister who falls under the spell of the vampire, is one of only two professional actors in the cast; the other is Maurice Schutz, who had worked with Dreyer previously in The Passion of Joan of Arc. Schmitz started her career in silent films such as G. W. Pabst's Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) and later became a favorite actress of Goebbels during the Nazi era, but she fell out of favor and later became a drug addict, committing suicide in 1955. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, fascinated by her story, used it as the basis for his film Veronika Voss (1982). Wolfgang Zeller, who composed the haunting score for Vampyr, worked with some of Germany's most accomplished directors in the late 1920s and early '30s, among them G. W. Pabst for the film L'Atlantide (1932). Zeller later composed the score for the Third Reich's most notorious anti-Semitic propaganda film, Jud Suss (1940).
Vampyr is often described as an adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla, part of his popular 1872 collection of stories In a Glass Darkly and an enduring classic of vampire literature. While the film retains the novella's lesbian vampire motif (with less of the original's strong sexual overtones), just about everything else is changed. It would be more accurate to say that Dreyer's film borrows freely from motifs in Le Fanu's collection as a whole. Later films such as Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses (1960) and Hammer productions such as The Vampire Lovers (1970) are arguably closer to Le Fanu's Carmilla - at least in terms of plot, if not psychological depth. Chief among Dreyer's many inspired inventions is the film's protagonist Allan Gray; in the novella, the tale is told from the point of view of the young girl who falls under the vampire's spell. In Vampyr, through the film's probing camera movements we share the unsettling passivity and incomprehension of Allan Gray as he witnesses the supernatural events unfolding around him.
Producer: Carl-Theodor Dreyer, Nicolas de Gunzberg
Director: Carl-Theodor Dreyer
Screenplay: Carl-Theodor Dreyer and Christen Jul, based on In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu.
Cinematography: Rudolph Mate
Editing: Frederick Richards
Music: Wolfgang Zeller
Art Direction: Hermann Warm, Hans Bittmann, Cesare Silvagni
Principal Cast: Julian West, aka Nicolas de Gunzberg (Allan Gray); Henriette Gerard (Marguerite Chopin); Jan Hieronimko (the Doctor); Maurice Schutz (Bernard); Sybille Schmitz (Leone); Rena Mandel (Gisele); Albert Bras (Joseph); N. Babanini (Jeanne); Jane Mora (the Nurse).
By James Steffen
Vampyr - The Criterion Collection's 2-Disc Set of VAMPYR on DVD
Coming off the crushing box office disaster The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Vampyr was Dreyer's hope for a commercially successful genre picture, privately financed by Baron Nicholas de Gunzburg (who agreed to act as the producer if he could star in the lead role; he's credited as Julian West in the final picture). Given the success of spooky potboiler films like The Lodger (1927) and The Cat and the Canary (1927), Dreyer was confidant he could have his artistic take and eat sizable profits too with this crowd-pleasing horror flick. After Dreyer had read 30-40 mystery stories and recognized many recurring elements of the horror/thriller genre in preparation of his script, he said confidently, "We can jolly well make this stuff too." He and co-writer Christen Jul based their screenplay on a collection of supernatural tales entitled In a Glass Darkly, by the 19th-Century Irish Huguenot writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu-emphasizing one tale in particular, the modern vampire story "Carmilla." As for other ingredients that went into Vampyr, Dreyer was most likely affected at least in some part by the craze for vampire tales, then a part of the zeitgeist even before Tod Browning's 1931 film of Dracula.
Dreyer started planning his vampire tale in the fall of 1929, explicitly influenced by Browning's other vampire tale, the now-infamously lost Lon Chaney horror tale, London After Midnight (1928). Dreyer may have also seen the 1927 stage production of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, that premiered on Broadway and enjoyed hit seasons in Europe. As for another key horror film that came well before Vampyr, Dreyer claimed to have never seen F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922). This may seem impossible, given that Murnau and his vampire tale are so nakedly influential in so many different films and national cinemas, but it's also true that Vampyr stands out as a much different story than Murnau's tale that was based (illegally) on Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. Whereas Murnau emphasized expressionistic sets and ghastly make-up on actor Max Schreck's Nosferatu, Dreyer chose to dwell on the inner illogic of this nightmare demon world of oppressive shadows and muted light dancing around each other in a naturalistic world. His approach differed not only from Murnau's but also from Hollywood's. Instead of an overt representation of what goes bump in the night, Dreyer instead took a more impressionist approach that expressed more eerie dread within psychological and inner turmoil, but always within a knowable space. For this purpose, Dreyer avoided the use of Hollywood's favored studio sets and shot the entire film on location.
The camerawork by Rudolph Maté, later the director of stylistic films like The Dark Past (1948) and D.O.A. (1950), pushes even further a sense of disconnect from the rational; the camera seems to have a point of view all of its own, one that subverts any ability for us to identify with the main character. Of course, any empathy we might have with Allan Gray is hampered by the fact that he's a rather grey character himself. Passive in his actions and his reactions, he is literally the outsider, often seen peering in on the action through windows and doors. In contrast to the cast of spooks lingering around the village, Gray is clean cut, with neatly parted black hair. Inquisitive and searching, he's Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks, without a damn fine cup of coffee and sinister timber.
Vampyr is composed with a much lesser emphasis on the human face as The Passion of Joan of Arc did. Instead, Dreyer chose to keep the camera at a distance from the face; there are few close-ups in the film. Dreyer leaves the map of human emotion and tells the story with the moody sets, evocative lighting (especially with the disembodied shadows), Mate's deceptive camera movement and the illogical cutting. The camera alone maintains a tension that is unsettling, like when the affected woman awakes to say, "I'm afraid of dying. I am damned." Instead of cutting to a close-up where we the viewer can empathize with the dying woman, Dreyer stays in a disaffected wide shot.
The young Marcel Carne, then a critic for Cine-Magazine, wrote about the film's Paris premiere in September 1932: "A genius of a both diabolical and mysterious kind bursts forth in these muted, oppressive images-as the juice seeps from an overripe fruit." Alas, his reaction was in the minority. At the world premiere took place in Berlin in May 1932--almost exactly four years after the release of Dreyer's commercial failure The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)--Vampyr was met with the disastrous box office reaction; on its opening night in Berlin, it was booed by a section of the audience, a sign of its eventual bottom-line anemia. Dreyer felt uFa's decision to hold the release of the film until after the release of Hollywood's horror cycle of 1931-including Universal's vaunted Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931) and Paramount's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)-damaged his film's reception. Vampyr was completed by mid-1931, well before the Hollywood horrors made their debut, but sat on the shelf for nine months. Despite the box office and critical drubbing, Dreyer felt he made the film he wanted to make. When asked immediately after the premiere what his intentions with the film had been, Dreyer said, "I have not had any particular intention. I just wanted to make a film different from all other films. I wanted...to break new ground for the cinema. That is all...I have broken new ground."
Criterion's edition includes typically outstanding supplements. At the top of the list is Carl Th. Dreyer, a 1966 documentary by Jorgen Roos that chronicles Dreyer's career. In the documentary, a Who's Who of European film culture--Henri-George Clouzot, Henri Langlois, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and others--pop up for the release of Dreyer's last film, Gertrud. A visual essay by scholar Casper Tybjerg compliments the audio commentary by film scholar Tony Rayns with more discussion on the influences and the production history in the creation of Vampyr. (A side note: Eureka's Masters of Cinema Region 2 edition of Vampyr boasts an audio commentary by Guillermo del Toro, a tantalizing feature that Criterion's edition lacks.) Also of interest is a radio broadcast from 1958 of Dreyer reading his own essay about his thoughts and philosophy about filmmaking. Off disc, the supplements are just as stellar; a book featuring Dreyer and Christen Jul's original screenplay (where David Grey is named Nikolas) is included, as well as Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 story "Carmilla," one of the sources for the film. Finally, the extensive 43-page booklet features new essays about the film's production history and its place in the history of cultural representations of the vampire by, respectively, critics Mark Le Fanu (a descendant of Sheridan Le Fanu) and Kim Newman. Martin Koerber supplies some notes on the restoration of Vampyr, while Criterion rounds out the booklet with an interview with Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg, originally printed in the spring 1964 issue of "Film Culture."
For more information about Vampyr, visit The Criterion Collection.To order Vampyr, go to TCM Shopping.
by Scott McGee
Vampyr - The Criterion Collection's 2-Disc Set of VAMPYR on DVD
Released in United States 1932
Released in United States 1989
Released in United States February 1989
Released in United States March 1976
Released in United States May 6, 1932
Released in United States October 1999
Shown at AFI European Community Film Festival in Washington, DC June 8-26, 1989 and Minneapolis July 1-24, 1989.
Shown at Museum of Modern Art in New York City February 17 & 23, 1989.
Began production in 1931.
Released in United States 1989 (Shown at AFI European Community Film Festival in Washington, DC June 8-26, 1989 and Minneapolis July 1-24, 1989.)
German, French, and English versions available
Released in United States May 6, 1932 (Premiered in Berlin May 6, 1932.)
Released in United States February 1989 (Shown at Museum of Modern Art in New York City February 17 & 23, 1989.)
Released in United States 1932
Released in United States March 1976 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Midnight Monsters) March 18-31, 1976.)
Released in United States October 1999 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Carl Theodor Dreyer: Tribute to the Great Danish Director" October 13-19, 1999.)