On July 16, 2014 Anthony challenged me to review the classic vampire film Nosferatu, but with a twist: he wanted me to have “virgin eyes.” I wasn’t allowed to read any reviews, blogs, or related materials that could influence my impression of the film.
Last week, I was chatting with vampire film reviewer, Andy Boylan, on Facebook. He said: “Actually you could always do a follow up to the Nosferatu piece with Vampyr… have you seen it… get the Criterion or masters of cinema [sic] version though. Its [sic] the first film based (and I say that loosley) [sic] an Carmilla.”
Andy sent me a link to his review of the film, which I avoided clicking. If I was going to do this again, I had to keep my eyes pure! I discussed the review with Anthony and he thought doing another film review with my “virgin’s view” was totally doable. He said it would be interesting because this was one film he hasn’t seen yet.
I curled up in my bed on Jan. 24 with my iPad and plunged into the world of Vampyr: Der Traum des Allan Gray. Warning, spoilers ahead!
The introduction starts with what I am assuming is German text. I am guessing since I don’t know the language. Initially you read, “Vampyr wurde 1931/1932 in drei Original.” I’ll guess this is the year the film was done; though I may be wrong.
My main complaint with the film, since I didn’t get a version with English subtitles, is that I couldn’t understand any of the text. I wanted to get the original film experience so I opted for no subtitles, which I need to add may alter my understanding and interpretation of what is actually happening so keep this in mind.
The ambiance for the film was set by its dark dramatic choice of classic instrumental music that accentuated movements of the characters. This wasn’t a silent film like Nosferatu; it had little snippets of dialogue sprinkled throughout the film, but again language barrier for me.
The film doesn’t have extravagant sets and takes place in a hotel adjacent to a lake and from what I can tell an old skool flour mill perhaps. What contributes to the eerie atmosphere is the camera angles. Every time Allan enters a room, they slowly pan, in some cases 360 degrees. You get a feel for the surroundings, like you’re actually there.
My first thought was who is Allan Gray? In the opening credits it says the part of Allan is played by Julian West. I’m going to assume he is the character that leads off the first scene.
Allan makes an appearance sporting a nifty suit and hat, and carrying what appears to be a fishing or butterfly net. Either way seeing a guy in a suit with those accessories kind of threw me off. He shows up to a hotel in the middle of nowhere searching for a room.
The little girl shows Allan to his room, where despite being bright outside he draws the curtains and lights some candles. He is startled by some creepy voices so sneaks off to inspect. Spooked, he returns promptly to his room and locks the door before he jumps into bed.
Allan is awoken by some random guy in a smoking jacket that sneaks into his room, and leaves Allan a wrapped package on the desk before leaving as suddenly as he appeared. Allan doesn’t seem too concerned so tucks the package in his suit and then goes on a little exploration adventure. This is when things get really confusing!
Shadows play a huge part in this film, and I may be wrong here, but I think they are representing either ghosts or the dead. First we see a shadow of someone slinking along the shoreline of the lake and then a man shovelling something only it is in reverse, like we hit rewind.
Once Allan enters the mill he sees the shadow of a solider get up and toddle off with a peg leg. He follows the shadow until it finds its owner who is sitting casually on a bench and then the shadow assumes his normal role and attaches itself back to the soldier. Considering the year this film was made, this concept is amazing! It brings a normal scene to the next level, without any crazy effects, just using something so common as a shadow.
Allan retreats back to the hotel and gradually meets the residents, after he witnesses the man in the smoking jacket get shot. I think this hotel gives the Bates Motel a run for their money! The only perpetrator we see fleeing the scene is the shadow of the soldier, but not the soldier himself.
Blown away by what just happened, Allan decides to open the mystery package the dead man left for him. It turns out to be a book, Die Seltsame geschichte der Vampyre. He reads quite a few pages, which may have something to do with the plot, but that will remain a mystery for me.
We are introduced to a sick girl in bed being cared for by a nun. A shady doctor shows up and immediately examines her face and inspects her teeth. This is the first indication of a vampire in the film, assuming they think she is turning into one. For some reason he leaves a vile of poison within the girl’s reach and leaves, perhaps giving her the choice of killing herself rather than becoming a member of the undead.
Oh and I forgot to mention, just before this scene a carriage pulls up with the driver slumped over leaking blood and I hear the first word I can understand: “blut” (blood).
Allan ends up donating blood, I am assuming for the sick, vampire infected girl. Immediately after Allan passes out on the chair only to awake to some kind of thunder and lightning in the hotel. He notices the doctor trying to poison the sick girl so chases the bastard outside to the mill.
Allan gets tired and flops down on a bench in the field to catch his breath. He gets up to pursue the doctor, only it is an image of him. We can see his sleeping body still on the bench. Does this mean Allan is dead?
He enters the mill again, only this time he discovers the doctor and soldier tending to a body in a coffin. Guess what folks? It’s Allan! He doesn’t seemed too concerned that he just found out he is dead.
The crooked pair seal up the coffin and we get another fantastic camera angle, again adding to the atmosphere of the film. We get to see the world from the corpse’s view as they carry Allan’s body from the mill outside to the cemetery accompanied by the ringing of church bells. This part to me was genius, giving the viewer the experience of laying in a coffin.
As they carry Allan’s body past his sleeping body on the bench, his ghost disappears, he wakes up and hurries off to the cemetery to find the servant cracking open a rather large grave. Inside is an old women we only got a glimpse of earlier. Without hesitation they stake the old lady! To demonstrate time lapse, they alternate shots of the sky and her body until her flesh disappears to reveal only a skeleton.
I’m assuming this was the head vampire because right after the sick girl wakes to find an over-joyed nun. A thunderstorm erupts again, only this time I have flash backs to the Wizard of Oz. A massive face appears in the window this time and vanishes seconds later.
We end this glorious film with the good doctor trapped in the mill as he drowns, buried alive with what looks like flour that flows down on him like water. He wriggles and screams, but no one comes to his aid. Karma is a bitch I guess!
Normally I wouldn’t feel it necessary to go into summarizing as much of the storyline as I’ve done. I think it’s important to convey there doesn’t seem to me much of a vampire element to the film; however, I’m sure this has to do with the language barrier on my part. Perhaps I’m just misinterpreting things?
As far as classic films go, I enjoyed this one and would recommend it to others. The camera angles, music and shadow concept created the right ambiance one would expect from a thriller, even back then.
What made this movie eerie was it was believable. Also they took some vampire folklore elements such as the blood engorged corpse that looked human in the grave and intertwined them with some vampire tropes such as staking the vampire, returning to her coffin during the day and killing the vampire returns all victims or half vampires to normal.
Being a fan of classic films, I found this film branched into another genre I haven’t been exposed to before. Yes parts of it were confusing, but I didn’t find myself bored unlike watching Nosferatu. It kept me guessing and trying to connect the dots. I am super curious to read some background on this little gem and get the real story!
Read my assessment of Erin’s “virgin eyes” review of Nosferatu (1922) here. Who knows? Maybe one might follow this review, too…