When examining the Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer’s (1889-1968) seminal take on the vampire legend, one may do well to proceed by asking the vulgar question: is Vampyr scary? Doing so confronts one with what the film is and is not and clues one in to why a large segment of the Berlin audience that attended the film’s 1932 premiere demanded- – unsuccessfully — their money back. When Dreyer set about making Vampyr, his intention was to generate moolah. But as might be supposed of a director whose previous film, La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928) stands as one of the supreme achievements of the medium, Dreyer was unable to harmonize his commercial intentions with an ability to stomach pat formulas. Rather, he trussed his work up with ambiguity and disjunction, instead of coddling his viewers with unruffled titillation. The film traces the adventures of Allan Gray, “a dreamer for whom the line between the real and the supernatural became blurred,” who happens upon a village where he becomes involved in various enigmas that twirl around a wizened vampire and her partner, a malign doctor. While Vampyr is not a scary film, it is an unsettling one that encourages multiple viewings. This is particularly true because of the manner in which Dreyer moves from objective to subjective perspectives and fiddles around with causality. Dreyer has been frequently cited as one of the true poets of cinema — a man who sought spiritual forms out of a medium that is predisposed to maximizing its secular appeal. Though his other masterpieces, such as Day of Wrath and Ordet, unfurl like rigorously metrical processions, Vampyr is the cinematic counterpart of gothically styled free verse.
About the Author
Christopher Byrd is a writer who lives in New York. His reviews have appeared in publications such as The New York Times Book Review, The American Prospect, The Believer, The Guardian , The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Wilson Quarterly.