What a treat! Criterion Collection has just released a superb, deluxe 2-DVD (with book! And booklet!) set dedicated to Carl Dreyer's Vampyr, the incredible, mesmerizing 1932 mood piece which makes Tod Browning's Dracula look like the stagey, dull melodrama it is. The best way to convey its hypnotic and creepy qualities is to post many stills, but they only tell half the story. Early sound films tend to be incredibly static because the ungainly, newfangled cameras had to be bolted to the ground. Dreyer, however, shot the film with silent cameras, and his picture never stops moving: the camera pans, and then reverses, revealing completely unexpected and disorienting vistas. The film looks backwards to both silent horror films like Nosferatu and avant-garde oddities like Dali's Un Chien Andalou, but also forward to Eraserhead (the film it most resembles) and the abstract films of Stan Brakhage.
Dreyer was less concerned with telling a story than with creating a mood of creeping dread:
Shadows detach and move independently from their sources:
Skulls and skeletons abound:
Is it a dream? Is it real? It doesn't matter:
Each and every screen composition is perfect:
The "hero" witnesses his own interment from inside the coffin in an extended dream (?) sequence which makes no sense but that you'll never forget:
When Dreyer decides to get back to storytelling, it's exciting and nerve-wracking:
Although the film is filled with ancient superstition, the director was an avid modernist:
Evil is vanquished in an unforgettable denouement:
Oh, sure, you'll have nightmares for weeks afterwards, but they'll be the most beautiful nightmares ever.