Monday, May 23, 2022


One of those rare (semi) serious reviews now - sorry in advance - but last Friday I got the chance to see one of my favourite movies on the big screen as Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1932 classic Vampyr has gotten a 90th anniversary re-release ahead of a spanking new blu-ray edition coming out.

It's a film I've loved since first seeing it at art school (after becoming obsessed with it thanks to Dennis Gifford and Alan Franks horror books in the 70s) and a cinema showing was too good to resist.

And not just because I'd finally get to worship the alluring beauty that is Rena Mandel in all her cinematic glory either.


Rena Mandel - that is all.


Vampyr (1932).

Dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer.

Cast:  Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz, Georges Boidin and Henriette Gerard.

"Why does the doctor only come at night?"


After enjoying a restful afternoon fishing whilst on holiday in the quaint village of Courtempierre (that's in France, Europe near London Town for our American readers and it's pretty famous for it's huge carp. Fact.) man about town Allan Gray (West, AKA Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg, French-born magazine editor, socialite and winner of the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1971, who also co-produced and financed the movie) heads toward the local Premier Inn hoping to get a bed for the night and maybe a selfie with Lenny Henry or something.

It's all a wee bit vague and dreamlike seeing as he has no luggage other than a lunchbox and a fishing rod but hey-ho it was a more innocent time. 

Luckily the tiny, bespectacled landlady has a room to spare and after escorting Allan thru a myriad of bizarrely wallpapered corridors he finally reaches his room and gets ready for bed only to be awakened from his slumber (or is he dreaming) by a foppish, smoking jacketed old geezer (Schutz) sneaking into his room and depositing a large package on his table.

Which to be honest is a wee bit nicer - and less messy - than what could have happened.


"Do you require any scissors sharpening?"


Quickly jumping from his bed Allan grabs the package and reads the ominous note attached:

 "To be opened upon my death" 

Getting dressed, and with the package under his arm Allan heads outside, allowing the shadows around him to guide him to an old dilapidated castle on the outskirts of town where he encounters a spooky old woman (Gérard), a one-legged soldier (Boidin) and what looks like Albert Einstein (Hieronimko) after being pushed into a hedge, re-enacting scenes from Eraserhead.

Or at least they would be if Eraserhead had actually been made yet.

Which is kinda confusing.

Maybe, just maybe David Lynch had seen this before he made it?


Quickly bored with all this shadow based surrealism - and realising the film has a fairly short running time -  Allan leaves the castle and walks to the nearby chateau that just happens to be owned by the man who broke into his room the previous night.


Sneakily looking thru' one of the windows, Allan is shocked (well  I say shocked but he just has that permanent surprised eyebrow thing going on that everyone in 20s/30s movies has so I'm guessing) to see his bedroom visitor violently shot and killed.

Which is nice.

"Eye hen!"


As the servants rush around trying in vain to save their employer (and their jobs) Allan soon comes across (easy tiger) the man's youngest daughter, the epitome of 30s chic and my reason for watching - Gisèle (Mandel, be still my beating teenage heart), who, after some stilted chat, takes Allan up the library (which isn't a euphemism) and confesses that her sister, Léone (Schmitz from Diary of A Lost Girl with Louise Brooks), is seriously ill and suffering from blood loss and a tendency to snarl at passers by.

The chat is interrupted by the sight of Léone wandering passed the window in a trance like state before disappearing into the bushes.


The pair follow her, and soon find Léone lying unconscious on the grass with fresh bite wounds on her neck and really damp knees. 

Carrying her back to the chateau, Allan suddenly remembers the package and hurriedly opens it to reveal a book about vampyrs, evil creatures who can turn humans into slaves by drinking their blood. 

No, the noise was my teenage heart breaking.

A wee bit like the Tories then.

Or the SNP.

Or the production team behind Doctor Who.

Take your pick.

Armed with this information - and being a really fast reader - Allan comes to the realization that Léone is the victim of one such vampyr.

Just then there's a loud knock at the door, the local doctor (whom Allan recognises as the wild-haired man from earlier) has come to check up on Léone, oh and scoff all the biscuits obviously.

He informs Allan - 'tween nibbles on a Hob-Nob -  that Léone needs a vital blood transfusion if she's to survive and Allan - desperate to impress Gisèle (and who wouldn't be?) immediately offers to help.

As Allan has a wee kip to recover Jeff the servant passes the time by having a flick thru' (tho' not to, it's not that kind of book) the vampyr tome and learns that a vampyr can be only be killed by driving an iron bar thru its heart. 

Which if I'm honest would pretty much kill anyone, vampyr or not.

I've always wondered about that.

It's the Ninky Nonk!


Allan awakes from a fevered dream to find the doctor attempting to poison Léone in order to make her a servant of the vampyr but luckily disturbs him before he can empty his special sickly sweet liquid into the poor girls mouth.

As the doctor flees the house, Allan goes to wake Gisèle only to find her missing.

Oh no.

So with a swagger usually reserved for very energetic postmen Allan gives chase, following the dastardly doctor back to the castle where he suddenly find himself having a (totally unexpected) out of body experience that helpfully explains the bits of the plot not yet covered to him.

It seems that the spooky old lady from earlier is in fact, the infamous vampyr Marguerite Chopin and the doctor and the one-legged soldier are her loyal servants, determined to find fresh meat for their mistress.

But before Allan can stop them there are a few more nightmarish hallucinations to deal with, including experiencing his own (premature) burial by Chopin's hand and - in possibly THE most erotic scene ever committed to celluloid in the 30s - discovering poor Gisèle tied to an old bed frame looking slightly bored.

Seriously, this scene played out in my mind a lot as a teen.

To be honest it still does.

Don't judge.

I thought all girls were like this as a teen...

Roused from his hallucinations by the family servant (who just happened to be passing and carrying a huge iron bar) the pair head to Marguerite Chopin's grave and crack it open, finding the old woman perfectly preserved within. 

Obviously this is enough evidence that she really is an evil vampyr so without further ado the pair hammer the bar into her heart, killing her instantly and lifting curse from Léone who suddenly sits up in bed and asks for a cake.

And a can of pop.

Meanwhile the ghost of Gisèle and Léone's dad is wandering around the castle in the hope of extracting revenge of the one-legged man and the dirty doctor....
Will the ghost succeed in his plan?

Will Allan rescue Gisèle before the doctor has his dastardly way with her or before she gets cramp in her shoulder?

And will I ever recover from this teenage crush/obsession?*

Cinematic - and feminine - perfection.


A year after completing his frankly fantastic The Passion of Joan of Arc, director Carl Theodor Dreyer decided his next film would be (more of) a supernatural tale - if you ignore the stigmata, voices from beyond and witch trials in Passion obviously - and considering vampires to be "fashionable things at the time" (the stage version of Dracula had been a huge hit in 1927) began to fashion a tale of the undead based partly around J. Sheridan Le Fanu's In a Glass Darkly short story collection, drawing mainly from Carmilla (the lesbian vampire tale from which Hammer would plunder it's teeth and tits cycle mot famously starring Ingrid Pitt) and The Room in the Dragon Volant, a jolly tale of a young Englishman who falls in love with a beautiful and married French countess that features spooky corridoors and a premature burial.

Just because.

Société Générale des Films, the production company behind Passion were less than enthusiastic tho' leading Dreyer to team up with Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg (whom he'd met thru' surrealist illustrator and painter Valentine Hugo), who offered to fund the film if he could play the lead.

Heading to Britain to study the new medium of sound films he soon teamed up with the London based Danish writer Christen Jul to write the script, deciding after reading hundreds of books regarding the supernatural that none of it was real and that they could just make shit up.


Shot entirely on location and with a cast of (mostly) non-actors - the director found Jan Hieronimko on a late night metro train in Paris after a night out whilst Rena Mandel was an artists model - and the crew from Passion (including returning cinematographer Rudolph Maté and art director Hermann Warm) the film was completed over a 6 month period with both cast and crew staying at the (run down) chateau used in the film. Other locations such as the church (a converted barn) and the castle where all within walking distance.


With the (minimal) dialogue planned to be recorded in English, German and Danish for the international market (as it was), the film was held back until Universals Dracula and Frankenstein had been released in the hope of securing a by now horror-centric audience, this backfired somewhat as Dreyer's surreal nightmarish vision confused - and in some ways scared - audiences with it's dream-like logic and often off-kilter performances and the film was seen as a colossal failure.

Basically it's David Lynch 50 years too early.

And that's why it's so fucking brilliant.

It plays fast and loose with narrative forms, playing out like a dream within a dream (within a dream) whilst still making absolute sense and with a gripping sense of dread that most modern directors would sell their kids for.

Plus it features the goddess that is Rena Mandel portaying the very definition of art school waif.

I mean seriously, what's not to love?

Pure, unadulterated, cinematic perfection.

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