Vampyr

Vampyr ★★★½

A bit underwhelming to be honest, but my expectations were probably a bit too high for a genre film made in the early 30s. The atmosphere is suitably creepy and Dryer does some great stuff with the camera, but the plot is too bare-bones to be really engaging. It’s a similar problem I have with genre films like 28 Days Later that originated a genre where the tropes have become so ingrained in popular culture that it’s hard to divorce Vampyr from the genre it spawned.

Vampyr benefits greatly from its on-location filming and the washed out, soft-focus aesthetic. If there’s anything this movie nails, it’s creating an eerie environment where you’re not quite sure what’s going on. The castle that Gray explores is suitably haunting, especially the way the shadows leap out and dance around the ominous backdrop. As well as being ingeniously filmed to create the illusion of shadows escaping their human forms, it immediately establishes the supernatural threat that hangs over the rest of the movie’s events. Gray’s time at the manor is largely an exposition dump where he literally reads a book containing the plotline, but I guess it was necessary for contemporary audiences unfamiliar with the tropes of the vampire genre, and Dryer’s unfamiliarity with sound film excuses the written exposition. I will say that the possession of Leone is genuinely unnerving, especially the deeply disturbing smile she gives the nurse as her eyes trace her horrified departure from the room. The third act becomes a bit weird though with the large amount of time spent on Gray’s vision and the subplot with Gisele, but it does allow Dryer to show off a cool ghostly effect where he appears translucent against the environment. The third act might not be the most narratively organised, but it certainly contains some of Vampyr’s best sequences including the aforementioned vision, the pulsating light that fills the Doctor’s office, and his final demise in the mill. What the narrative lacks from a modern perspective, it makes up for with Dryer’s creative setpieces and command of atmosphere. Even if I don’t think he quite managed to tie these individual pieces into a coherent piece and events don’t really have a progression to them, this is still an entertaining watch. The giant face superimposed on the window was pretty laughable though.

Vampyr is a solid movie, great for its time and interesting to look back on. I’m interested in watching Nosferatu as well since they’re said to be interesting companion pieces and especially since Nosferatu is more famous and acclaimed.