65 min., 1932
Written by Christen Jul/Carl Th. Dreyer
Directed by Carl Th. Dreyer
My rating: ★★★★★
Puts Bela Lugosi’s Dracula in its place.
* * *
We begin with text about how Allan Gray (Nicolas De Gunzburg) has been studying devil worship and vampires for some time and he has decided to wander around a bit, where he ends up at a remote hotel. While there he starts seeing and hearing strange things, like the sound of a child, to which there are no children in the area and the sight of shadows. Now the shadows are strange because there is nothing attached to them and they seem to be leading him somewhere. He ends up following some of them especially a soldier looking fellow with a peg leg. He is led to a mansion where a woman by the name of Giséle (Rena Mandel) and her sister Léone (Sybille Schmitz) live. Allan sees a man get shot and rushes to help but there is nothing that he can do even with the help of the village doctor (Jan Hieronimko). Allan then opens a package that the man gave him back at the hotel room (watch and you’ll understand), and within it is a book about vampires. Suddenly Léone is missing and after some looking it seems she has been bitten by a vampire. Can Allan find the vampire and stop him or will this manor be destroyed by the vampire curse?
Considering when this movie was made and that there are times when the older acting just comes off as plain silly, this movie actually delivers the goods. Nicolas De Gunzburg uses his eyes in the best ways. He doesn’t have to say a word when he is afraid, confused or shocked, because his eyes tell the whole story. Even though his dialogue delivery is a bit wonky, it really doesn’t hurt him much, because his expressions and body movement make up for it. Now my favorite of the group has to be Sybille Schmitz. After she gets bit by the vampire and she starts to go mad, holy shit does she look like it. Her facial expressions are just full of madness and her crazy looking eyes just make you question her actual insanity. She just has the part down. As for the rest of the cast, they also do a really good job. There really isn’t anyone that I can think of that dropped the ball.
Along the lines of the effects, this movie actually does a great job. Considering the time and how effects are done, it’s really surprising how they actually hold up. Now there really isn’t any gore or any real violence seen, but what it does such a good job with are the shadows. They are done in a very creepy way and realize how ahead of the time director Carl Theodor Dreyer really was. My favorite effects was with the peg legged soldier. You see, there is a shadow that Allan is following and it walks up to a bench where the soldier is sitting and it sets it’s gun down and sits in the same position as the soldier show us that he is actually his shadow. It’s just really nicely done.
Now is this the best vampire film ever made? No. But it’s up there with the best of the best. It’s engaging and very beautiful in a dark way. Does that mean that it’s perfect? Again, no. One of the main problems comes with the transfer. Considering that the original was destroyed and they had to splice together two different versions to make this one, there are times where everything seems to be going at “normal” speed and then it will turn into the “fast” speed. It is quite distracting and can get annoying. There are also some scenes where the transfer is just really, really poor quality, extremely grainy and really scratched up. Really annoying, but then again what else can you do. My only other gripe goes to Criterion and their poor choice of subtitle colors (the movie is in German). There are scenes where there is white text in the background and they decided to use white subtitles. It was really had to read and got really annoying. Those complaints really have nothing to do with the actual content of the film itself and if you sit down and watch it, you will be in for a classic treat.Have You Read...?