Review: Vampyr: The Dream of Allan Gray (1932)

Directed by: Carl Theodor Dreyer | 65 minutes | fantasy, horror | Actors: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Sybille Schmitz, Jan Hieronimko, Henriette Gérard, Albert Bras, N. Babanini, Jane Mora

This 1932 film is by director Carl Dreyer and is based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel “In a glass darkly”. In this story, it is a vampire who threatens a small village community, but director Dreyer takes an approach in the design of his film that makes comparison with other vampire or horror films difficult. First of all, it is noticeable from the start that the atmosphere in the film is dark and dark. Not only because of the effective use of light and dark or because it was shot in black and white, but mainly because of the slightly flickering, sometimes grainy and light gray-tinted film images. The often vague, misty and out of focus contours of people, objects and landscapes quickly catch the eye. Perhaps a consequence because the ravages of time have not left this 1932 production untouched? Not really no. Director Dreyer did not originally have it that way. But an already-recorded part of the film was accidentally damaged, and when director Dreyer saw the result on the silver screen, he decided he wanted to make the entire film in this style. And his reasons for this? Dreyer had a horror film in mind in which atmosphere and style were paramount. And the choice he made regarding the presented image quality of this film in any case gave him a good start.

In addition, the high “silent film” content of Dreyer’s production is striking. “Vampyr” was originally also intended to be a silent movie. At a later stage, however, scenes with spoken words were added, but the number of spoken words remains limited. In addition, Dreyer plays the story in a slow, if not sometimes very slow tempo. Because effective use is not only made of light and dark, but also of silence and sound, the story occasionally almost comes to a standstill, among other things to provide the viewer with pieces of text from a book with which the necessary explanation is given. regarding vampirism is given. Although this gradually reveals the nature of the danger that threatens the town of Courtempierre, the design of the events is quite different from that as we know it from vampire films of later years. Little action, no wild chases or overly fierce confrontations, hardly any bloodshed and the vampire itself is rarely shown. It will become clear to the viewer while watching this film that it is not so much the title “Vampyr”, but more the subtitle “der Traum des Allan Gray” that does justice to the content of this film. Because in addition to the above elements, the floating content of the events in this film is also striking. Because Dreyer seems to go in different directions with his story, various scenes seem to have no purpose and it is also often unclear which events in the story should be regarded as reality or as an illusion or dream. Reality and fiction repeatedly merge into each other, whereby repeatedly it appears only after a while that water has played out exactly. And in combination with each other, supported by separate camera angles and a successful oppressive soundtrack, the various elements in their entirety form a dream-like event that can be found in few films. A dream-like, and in some respects also ghostly film with nightmarish traits here and there, of which the scene in which main character Allan Gray observes the events around him from his own coffin is a prime example. But within the story it is also the other characters, their actions and many other points that Dreyer has given shape in a correct way. The unclear identity of various apparently aimlessly passing characters, the shadows that dance across the walls as if by themselves, the not only sparse but sometimes also incoherent dialogues, the long-running behind the facts of protagonist Allan Gray, the defenselessness of the various intended human prey of the vampire and their fear of the evil threatening them, the victims who present themselves one by one, the evil traits that one of the victims of the vampire begins to show … within the framework of this film it effectively contributes to the dark atmosphere that characterizes this production. All the more so since the human henchman of the vampire is clearly visible, but the vampire himself barely passes by. However, the consequences of his malicious acts cannot be avoided. And because these are slowly but surely coming to the fore, an all the more subtle threat hanging in the background is constantly tangible.

In them In totality, this film thus exudes an atmosphere of vagueness, confusion, claustrophobia, despair, decay and doom. A film that responds to various human fears, and in which this will also be recognized by many viewers. And because of the feelings of unrest that will creep up on many of them all too much, it can be said that director Dreyer’s intention has been successful. However, there are also some imperfections in this film. The actors and actresses appearing in the film are almost all amateurs, which is all too clear for several of them. With the exception of a few characters, the characters are not really explored, and actual involvement is repeatedly omitted. The story itself turns out to have little depth in the end, and in some parts of the film that are unmistakably “reality” in the story, there appear to be a few holes.

Aside from that, Dreyer’s approach will make this film a difficult one to most viewers. A film that requires careful attention, because apart from the text presented with an explanation about vampirism, little or no explanation is given. Reason enough, therefore, not to miss anything within the already vague images and surrealistic character of this film. This also means that this film must be endured with the necessary patience. And to actually appreciate it, the viewer must also surrender to the dreamy atmosphere that characterizes this production. Not every viewer will soon be able to do that, but for those who can immerse themselves in the atmosphere of this film, for lovers of classic works and the so-called ‘cinéma bizarre / fantastique’, the introduction to Dreyer’s film is a recommendable and unique viewing experience.

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