By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
After a successful Copenhagen premiere, Vampyr scandalized Berlin. The tumultuous May 1932 screening was considered newsworthy by the local New York Times correspondent: "Whatever you think of the director Charles [sic] Theodor Dreyer," he reported, "there is no denying that he is 'different.' He does things that make people talk about him. You may find his films ridiculous—but you won't forget them. . . . Although in many ways [Vampyr] was one of the worst films I have ever attended, there were some scenes in it that gripped with brutal directness."
It's a valid description. Exerting considerable moment-to-moment fascination as it heedlessly transcends the rules, Vampyr has few establishing shots and many abrupt cuts. The action takes place over the course of a single white night, with the moon as bright as the sun. Some characters unexpectedly leave and re-enter the frame. Others are simply disembodied—present as shadows, reflections, or voices. Everything is unstable, nothing is ever really explained, although just about everything can be extrapolated . . . eventually. (As the film theorist Noel Carroll once observed, Vampyr is hard to follow but not difficult to understand.) Vampyr thrives on illusion—the power of suggestion runs wild—although it is quite literal-minded in representing vampirism as a spiritual disease and even more so in evoking, as no movie ever has, the terror of being buried alive.
Vampyr is uncanny not because of its subject matter, but because of its utter strangeness as film. For those who have never seen Day of Wrath, the new print is a must-see; for Dreyer cultists, Criterion's DVD is a must-have.
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