Vampyr (1932)

by on Apr.06, 2012, under Syndicated from the Web

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Vampyr (German: Vampyr – Der Traum des Allan Grey) is a
1932 horror film directed by Danish director Carl Theodor
Dreyer. The film was written by Dreyer and Christen Jul based
on elements from J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly.

Vampyr was funded by Nicolas de Gunzburg who starred in
the film under the name of Julian West among a mostly
non-professional cast. Gunzberg plays the role of Allan Grey,
a student of the occult who enters a small village outside of
Paris which is cursed by supernatural creatures known as
Vampyrs who lure townspeople to suicide so they can become
servants for the devil.

Vampyr was challenging for Dreyer to make as it was his first
sound film and had to be recorded in three languages. To
overcome this, very little dialogue was used in the film and
much of the story is told with silent film-styled title cards.
The film was shot entirely on location and to enhance the
atmospheric content, Dreyer opted for a washed out, fuzzy
appearing photographic technique. The audio editing was
done in Berlin where the character’s voices, sound effects,
and score were added to the film.

Vampyr had a delayed release in Germany and opened to a
generally negative reception from audiences and critics.
Dreyer edited the film after its German premiere and it
opened to more mixed opinions at its French debut. The
film was long considered as a low part in Dreyer’s career,
but modern critical reception to the film has become much
more favorable with critics praising the film’s disorienting
visual effects and atmosphere.


On a late evening, Allan Gray arrives at an inn close to the
village of Courtempierre where he rents a room to sleep.
Gray is awakened suddenly by an old man, entering the
room and leaving a square packet on Gray’s table with “To
be opened upon my death” written on it. Gray takes the
package and walks outside finding shadows guiding him
to an old castle where he sees several shadows dancing and
wandering on their own. Gray also sees an elderly woman
and encounters the village doctor. Gray leaves the castle and
walks to a manor. Looking through one of the windows, Gray
sees the man who gave him the package earlier. This old man
is suddenly murdered by gun shot. Gray is let into the house
by servants who rush to the aid of the fallen man but find it
too late to save him. The servants have Gray stay the night,
where the Lord of the manor’s youngest daughter, Giséle
leads Gray to the library where he learns that her sister,
Léone is gravely ill. Gray and Giséle then see Léone walking
outside. They rush to her finding her lying unconscious with
fresh bite wounds. They have her carried back up to the manor
where Gray remembers the parcel given to him. On opening
the parcel, Gray finds the book is about horrific demons called

After reading the book, Gray discovers Léone is a victim of a
Vampyr and that the Vampyr also can have humans forced into
her submission. The village doctor visits Léone at the manor,
who Gray recognizes as the old man he saw in the castle. The
doctor tells Gray that a blood transfusion is needed and Gray
offers his blood to save Léone. Exhausted from blood loss, Gray
wakes sensing danger, and rushes to Léone finding the doctor
who has just dropped a poison vial from his hand. The doctor
flees the manor, as Gray finds that Giséle has gone missing.
Gray follows the doctor finding himself in the castle where he
has a vision of himself being buried alive. After waking from
this vision, he succeeds in rescuing Giséle while the doctor is
able to get away. The old servant of the manor finds Gray’s
Vampyr book and discovers the way to defeat a Vampyr is
with an iron bar through their heart. The servant meets Allan
Gray by Marguerite Chopin’s grave behind the village Chapel.
They open the grave and find the old woman laying there and
begin to hammer a large metal bar through her heart, killing
her. The village doctor has found refuge in an old mill, but
finds himself locked in a chamber where flour sacks are
filled. The old servant arrives and activates the mill’s
machinery, making the Vampyr’s associate drown in the
flour that comes crashing from above. The curse of the
Vampyr is lifted when Léone recovers. Giséle and Gray cross
a foggy river outside by boat and find themselves in a brighter

Carl Theodor Dreyer.


Julian West as Allan Gray: A young wanderer whose studies of
devil worship have made him a dreamer. Gray’s view of world
in the film is described as a blur of the real and unreal.

Rena Mandel as Giséle: The younger sister of Léone and the
daughter of the Lord of the Manor. Giséle is kidnapped by the
Village Doctor late in the film.

Sybille Schmitz as Léone: The older sister of Giséle, who is
bedridden and finds her strength growing less day by day.

Jan Hieronimko as the Village Doctor: An old man who is a pawn
of the the vampyr Marguerite Chopin. The village doctor kidnaps
Giséle late in the film.

Henriette Gérard as Marguerite Chopin: An elderly women who
commands her minions to make the people in the village commit
suicide which will send their souls to hell.

Maurice Schutz as the Lord of the Manor: The father of Giséle and
Léone who offers Gray a book vampirism to help Gray save his
daughters. After his death, a vision of the Lord of the Manor
appears to the village doctor at the mill.

Albert Bras as an Old Servant: A man who works for Lord of the
Manor. After the death of his master, he finds Gray’s book on
vampirism and aids Gray in killing Marguerite Chopin in her



Director Carl Theodor Dreyer began planning Vampyr in late 1929,
a year after the release of his previous film The Passion of Joan of
Arc. The production company behind Dreyer’s previous film had
plans for Dreyer to make another film, but the project was dropped
which lead to Dreyer deciding to go outside the studio system to
make his next film. Being Dreyer’s first sound film, it was made
under difficult circumstances as the arrival of sound put the
European film industry in turmoil. In France, film studios lagged
behind technologically with the first French sound films being shot
on sound stages in England. Dreyer went to England to study sound
film, where he got together with Danish writer Christen Jul who was
living in London at the time.[4] Dreyer decided to create a story
based on the supernatural and read over thirty mystery stories and
found a number of re-occurring elements including doors opening
mysteriously and door handles moving with no one knowing why.
Dreyer stated proudly that “We can jolly well make this stuff too”.

VAMPYR Programme (Danish, 1933)
This is the original Danish programme from 1933 with art by
Erik Aaes (art director on Vampyr, Day Of Wrath, and Ordet).

In London and New York, the stage version Dracula had been a
large hit in 1927. Dreyer and Jul created a story based on vampires
which Dreyer considered to be “fashionable things at the time”.

Vampyr is based on elements from J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass
Darkly, a collection of five stories first published in 1872. Dreyer
draws from two of the stories for Vampyr, one being Carmilla, a
vampire story with a lesbian subtext and the other being The
Room in the Dragon Volant about a live burial. Dreyer found it
difficult to decide on a title for the film. It may have initially been
titled Destiny and then Shadows of Hell. When the film was
presented in the film journal Close Up it was titled The Strange
Adventure of David Gray.


Dreyer returned to France to begin casting and location scouting.
At the time in France, there was a small movement of artistic
independently financed films, including Luis Buñuel’s L’Âge d’or
and Jean Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet which were both released
in 1930. Through Valentine Hugo, Dreyer met Nicolas de Gunzburg,
an aristocrat who agreed to finance Dreyer’s next film in return for
playing the lead role in it. Gunzberg had arguments with his family
about becoming an actor, so he created the pseudonym Julian West,
a name that would be the same in all three languages that the film
was going to be shot in.

The village doctor suffocates under flour dropped from the mill
above. This scene was added to the script during the film’s production
and was told to be toned down by German censors.

Most of the cast of in Vampyr were not professional actors. Jan
Hieronimko, who plays the village doctor, was found on a late night
metro train in Paris. When approached to act in the film, Hieronimko
stared blankly and did not reply. Hieronimko later contacted Dreyer’s
crew and agreed to join the film. Many of the other non-professional
actors in the film were found in similar fashion in shops and cafes.

The only professional actors in the film were Maurice Schutz, who
plays the Lord of the Manor, and Sybille Schmitz, who plays his
daughter Léone. Many crew members of Vampyr had worked with
Dreyer on his previous film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Returning
crew members included cinematographer Rudolph Maté and art
director Hermann Warm.

The entire film was shot on actual locations with many scenes shot
in Courtempierre, France. Dreyer and his cinematographer
Rudolph Maté took part in scouting for locations for Vampyr.

Dreyer left most of his scouting to an assistant, who Dreyer
instructed to find “a factory in ruins, a chopped up phantom,
worthy of the imagination of Edgar Allan Poe. Somewhere in
Paris. We can’t travel far”. In the original script, the village
doctor was supposed to flee the village and get trapped in a
swamp. On looking for a suitable mire, the crew found a mill
where they saw white shadows around the windows and doors.
After seeing this place, they changed the film’s ending to take
place at this mill where the doctor dies by suffocating under
the milled flour.


Vampyr was filmed between 1930 and 1931. With everything
being shot on location, Dreyer believed it would be beneficial
by lending the dream-like ghost world of the film as well as
allowing them to save money by not having to rent studio space.

Dreyer originally wanted Vampyr to be a silent film, as it uses
many elements of the silent era such as the use of title cards to
explain the story. Dialogue in the film was kept to a minimum.
For the scenes with dialogue, the actors mouthed their lines in
French, German and English so their lip movements would
correspond to the voices that were going to be recorded in
post-production. There is no record of the English version
being completed. The scenes in the chateau were shot in April
and May 1930. The chateau also acted as housing where the
cast and crew lived for the filming period. Living in the chateau
was unpleasant for them as it was cold and infested with rats.
The church yard scenes were shot in August 1930. The church
was not an actual church, but a barn with a number of tombstones
placed around it. This set was designed by the art director
Hermann Warm.

Critic and writer Kim Newman described Vampyr’s style as closer
to the experimental features such as Un chien andalou then a
“quickie horror films” made after the release of Dracula (1931).
Dreyer originally was going to film Vampyr in what he described
as a “heavy style” but changed direction after cinematographer
Maté showed him one shot that came out fuzzy and blurred. This
washed out look was an effect Dreyer desired, and had Maté shoot
the film through a piece of gauze held three feet (.9 m) away from
the camera to re-create this look. For other visuals in the film,
Dreyer found inspiration from the fine arts. Actress Rena Mandel,
who plays Gisèle, said that Dreyer showed her reproductions of
paintings of Francisco Goya during filming. In Denmark, a
journalist and friend of Dreyer, Henry Hellsen wrote in detail about
the film and the artworks it appeared to draw on. When being asked
about the intention of the film at the Berlin premiere, Dreyer
replied that he “had not any particular intention. I just wanted to
make a film different from all other films. I wanted, if you will, to
break new ground for the cinema. That is all. And do you think this
intention has succeeded? Yes, I have broken new ground”. The filming
of Vampyr was completed the middle of 1931.


Allan Gray (Nicolas de Gunzburg) finds a coffin containing
himself in a dream sequence. Modern critics praise this
sequence as one of the most memorable sequences from Vampyr.

Dreyer shot and edited the film in France and then brought it to
Berlin where it was post-synchronized in both German and French.
Dreyer did the audio work at Universum Film AG, as they had the
best sound equipment available to him at the time. Most of the
actors did not dub their own voice. The only voices of the actors
that are their own in the film are of Schmitz and Gunzburg. The
sounds of dogs, parrots, and other animals in the film were fake
and were done by professional imitators. Wolfgang Zeller composed
the film’s score and worked with Dreyer to develop the music.

There are differences between the German and French releases of
the film. The character Allan Grey is named David Gray for the
German release, which Dreyer attributed to a mistake. The German
censors ordered cuts to the film that still exist today in some prints.
The scenes which had to be toned down include the doctor’s death
under the milled flour and the vampire’s death from the stake. There
are other scenes that were shot and included in the script that do
not exist in any current prints of Vampyr. These scenes reveal the
vampire in the factory recoiling against a shadow of a Christian cross
as well as a ferryman guiding Gray and Gisèle by getting young
children to build a fire and sing a hymn to guide them back to the

Dreyer had prepared a Danish version of the film which was based
on the German version with Danish subtitles and title cards. The
distributor could not afford to have the title cards completed in
the manner they appear in the German version, which were instead
finished with a more simple style. The distributor also wanted to
make the pages in the book shown in the film as plain title cards
which Dreyer did not allow. Dreyer responded to this idea, saying
that “the old book is not an text in the ordinary sense, but an
actor. Just as much as the others.”

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