Vampyr

Released:  1932

Cast:  Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz, Henriette Gerard

SUMMARY:  In the French village of Courtempierre, a young man named Allan Gray (Julian West) stops for the night at a hotel.  Gray is a scholar of devil-worship and vampires, and it has caused him to become suspicious and paranoid:  he has trouble telling fantasy from reality.  On the first night at the inn, a man (Maurice Schutz) abruptly walks into Gray’s room, puts a small package on a table with a note on it, and leaves.  The note says that the package is only to be opened on the event of the old man’s death, and Gray leaves the package sealed.  However, he does attempt to follow the man.  As he moves through the inn and the surrounding area, he sees numerous shadows that do not appear to have a source; he also sees shadows that move independently of their source.  Gray finally finds himself at a manor, where he sees the old man through a window.  Suddenly, the man is shot by an unknown assailant; Gray manages to summon a servant, who lets him in.  The old man has survived, but lives only a few minutes longer before dying before Gray, a few servants, and his youngest daughter, Gisele (Rena Mandel).  One of the servants requests that Gray stay at the manor that night, and Gray accepts.  He learns that the older daughter, Leone (Sybille Schmitz), has been sick for some time and that her chances for survival are slim.  As Gisele looks out the window, she suddenly sees Leone walking through the grounds.  Leone is supposed to be in bed, so Gisele, Gray and a servant all rush outside to find her.  When they do locate her, she has fresh wounds on her neck.  While they wait for the doctor (Jan Hieronimko) to arrive, Gray unwraps the package from the old man; inside is a book about vampires, which Gray begins to read.  He deduces that this is what is ailing Leone:  she has become the prey of a vampire, and is kept in submission by that same entity.  Just then, the doctor arrives and Gray abandons his reading.

To his surprise, Gray realizes that he has seen the doctor before, when he was wandering through the area.  The man keeps a very strange office, and acted peculiarly when he previously met Gray.  Now, he informs the manor occupants that Leone needs blood.  Gray volunteers to donate blood, but is exhausted after this and falls asleep.  He wakes up suddenly and rushes into Leone’s room, where he finds that the doctor has left a vial of poison near her; Leone is trying to drink it.  As this is essentially an aided suicide attempt, the doctor runs away from Gray and the manor.  Gray also finds that Gisele has disappeared.  He attempts to return to the doctor’s office, but is overcome by fatigue and stops on a bench to rest.  He then has an incredibly vivid dream of himself being killed and buried by the doctor; he also sees that the doctor is holding Gisele captive.  When he wakes up Gray manages to save Gisele, but the doctor once again flees.  Meanwhile, one of the household servants has found the book about vampires and begun reading it.  He learns that a few decades earlier, the village had been rumored to be under the curse of a vampire:  the townspeople believed the vampire to be Marguerite Chopin (Henriette Gerard), who later died.  The servant also learns the method of killing vampires, by driving an iron stake through the heart.  Realizing that the town is still being terrorized by Marguerite and her minions, the servant finds an iron stake and heads to the graveyard.  Gray sees him and joins in, and together they open the grave to find Marguerite’s perfectly preserved body.  When they drive the stake through her heart, the body instantly becomes skeletonized.  They find the doctor (the vampire’s primary accomplice) hiding in a flour mill, so the servant activates the machinery that moves the flour; the doctor is eventually suffocated.  This signifies the end of the vampire’s reign of terror, and Leone recovers from her ordeal.

MY TAKE:  This movie is pretty impressive in its special effects, particularly given its release date.  During the scene where Gray is in a trance, you can see him clearly, but you can also see through him, suggesting that he’s not totally there.  However, what really impressed me was the sequence early on when Gray sees the various shadows moving around.  In several cases, you can see the shadow and the object that should be creating it, but they’re obviously different.  For instance, one part shows a man climbing a ladder.  You can see the shadow of the man and the ladder, and you can see the actual ladder in the same shot — but the real ladder doesn’t have anybody on it.  Another of these shadows later walks back to where its source is sitting, somehow rejoining it.  It reminded me of Peter Pan losing his shadow and Wendy having to sew it back on.  I was pretty impressed, as the effect was totally believable.  Gray is kind of the stereotypical horror movie fool, who runs toward danger instead of away from it.  When he starts noticing strange things happening at the inn, he goes snooping around instead of leaving, like a sane person would do.  He later witnesses a guy being murdered under strange circumstances, but agrees to stay in the house — with a bunch of complete strangers — that same night.  Really, it’s a miracle that he wasn’t offed by the vampire or the doctor.  He should also have known that something was up when he saw the doctor’s office.  It was filled with all kinds of creepy skulls and shrunken heads, and just screams insanity.  The doctor’s not too subtle, obviously.  I think that the servant is the bigger and better hero, because he’s the one that figures out how to kill the vampire, actually does it, then kills the doctor.  Gray just tagged along and probably got the glory and the girl.  Still, it’s a good film:  the special effects are cool and the action is fast-paced.

RATING:  Good early horror film.

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