Tag: vampire

Shocktober Review: Vampyr (1932)

Vampyr 1

Carl Theodore Dreyer’s 1932 vampire film is only the third of its kind, though saying this is like anything else is a bit of a stretch. It’s closer to Nosferatu than Dracula (31), sure, but this film is so ephemeral as to almost not exist. If you read the supplementary materials and watch the visual essay included in the Criterion edition, you’ll discover that there were 3 versions of the film (in French, English, and German), one of which was lost forever (English) while the others are edited together for the restoration, and that the literary “source” of the film, le Fanu’s “Carmilla” is only vaguely referenced in the larger plot of the film. This haziness in the film’s origins extends to its visuals and story. If you told me I made up a creepy old man that appears at the inn at the beginning of the movie I’d probably believe you, since he doesn’t show up again and doesn’t seem to have any importance for either the story or the thematic elements.

The movie looks like it might disappear at any moment, too, following the creepy old man as he exits the picture. It’s always foggy any time the characters venture outside, and indoors the geography of the old mansion where much of the film takes place seems both out of whack and disconnected. Dreyer’s camera is almost constantly moving and it is exhilarating, especially during the film’s opening and closing 15 minutes. You never know what it’ll show you, and soon even benign shadows take on a malevolent malleability. For one of the few times while watching a horror film, I was actually afraid that what I was seeing might be revealed to be some dangerous other thing.

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The first 15 minutes of this movie are a straight masterpiece of surreal horror filmmaking. From the eerie guy with a sickle to the strange inhabitants of the riverside inn to the walk through a nightmarish factory that seems to be the vampire’s lair, the film drips with menace and style. It’s also clever as hell. With just lighting and editing, Dreyer creates some fantastic images that equally delight and terrify. My favorite in the early goings is the shadow that prances along the river, but only in the water’s reflection. This is the introduction of the sourceless shadow trick that Dreyer gets the most out of in the first part of the film and I loved every iteration. In the back section, he relies on a different technique to get a totally different rise out of the audience: an extended POV shot of a presumably dead man getting screwed into his coffin (with a convenient glass window for his face!) and then carried to a graveyard. It’s a deeply unsettling setup and while it lasts maybe a bit too long, I can’t impugn something so remarkable and new (I had seen a version of this shot before, kinda, in Borzage’s A Farewell To Arms, one of the few great moments of that film). The vampire’s henchman also gets a glorious sendoff that will stick with me for some time.

The beginning and end of this movie are so spectacular that it is a pretty big disappointment when the middle is so unremarkable. Perhaps it’s because the middle contains the most of the typical vampyric stuff that, I understand, wasn’t so typical at the time. It’s one of those things where something new becomes so important to a genre or style of movie that it loses some of its impact on later viewers. But there’s also a noticeable drop-off in cleverness that sets in during the middle 40 minutes or so. The only thing that really stands out from this is the beguiling and seductive look that lights up the young female vampire’s face when she tries to lure her even younger sister in for a bite. The movie is sexy, to a degree, and it is also remarkable for having no male vampires on screen. For one of the few times, especially in early horror, it’s all about the women. Coming off of the wonderful character study that is The Passion of Joan of Arc, Dreyer uses his formidable talents with framing and lighting the young woman’s face for maximum impact, and her performance matches his framing, even if it doesn’t make up as much of the film as it does in his previous attempt. It’s too bad everything around it feels perfunctory.

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Vampyr is a movie that will not soon leave my mind. There’s a power to the opening and close of the film that will cement some of those images in my mind for a long while. There’s a whiff of missed opportunity here, given both the story and filmmaking boredom that sets in during the middle, but half of that can be explained away with the passage of time. Had I seen this movie when it first came out, or before I had seen dozens of other vampire movies, it probably would have impressed me more, at least I would lose that sense of over-familiarity. I think it still has plenty of merit, and is definitely necessary viewing for any fans of the gothic or film history or just great looking movies.

B+

5 Jawesome Things for the week of April 27, 2012

Another week with bonus Jawesome to make up for missing last week’s column.

1. Parks and Rec

Recently, 30 Rock has gotten some flack for just being a joke machine with little thought for character or plot. I can’t really argue against that, though I still really like the show. Parks and Rec does not have that problem. At all. The characters are what drives the show and the debate episode (written and directed by Amy Pohler) is glorious proof. It’s full of these people acting as we would expect and still being extremely funny. And then the show ends with an amazing speech by Leslie Knope which isn’t so much funny as it is just a great moment of TV. But that moment only works because we know her and her friends so well. The show couldn’t have pulled off such a real moment in its first or second season because the groundwork wasn’t laid at that time. This is proof positive that arbitrary limits on tv show running times are silly. Yes, the Brits generally like to end their shows before they get bad, The Office‘s 12 episodes and a bonus being the prime example, but just think of how much we’d miss from Parks and Rec if it had ended after two seasons.

2. Babies and weddings

Well, just the one baby. I am, of course, talking about Game of Thrones. Last week we got to one of the most shocking scenes in the second book on the tv show and it was executed much better than I expected it to be. It was a genuinely creepy scene and it gave me even more confidence in the show’s ability to get the book right. Which is good, because I’m also about 100 pages away from the end of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the series. There are so many weddings! Each one plays out differently and they are all quite fascinating. It’s an interesting thematic chorus: after each wedding the world is shifted in some small or large way and the next chapters are about the aftermath until the next wedding comes along and changes everything again. I won’t spoil who is getting married to who, but it’s all very interesting and often shocking.

3. Gotye – Making Mirrors

I guess I’m pretty late to this album, but I hadn’t even heard the super popular “Somebody that I Used to Know” until his appearance on Saturday Night Live (along with the very funny digital short parodying the songs strange but wonderful video). The rest of the album is pretty darn good, too. He goes through a lot of different genres, my favorite being his take on old-school soul, “I Feel Better”. He tries a lot of things on the album and the amazing thing is that most of them work.

4. Python

I don’t know why I watched this. I know I have a weakness for giant animal movies, but this one is one of the worst that I have seen. It is, at least, bad in a good way. I think all the proof you need is in the trailer, which shows the two brave choices that make this movie so Jawesome. The first is Wil Wheaton’s Pink Hair and the second is Casper Van Dien’s Miserable Mustache. Never before have two truly ugly folicular mistakes occupied the same screen along with a horribly rendered CGI snake and Jenny McCarthy (who has her own horrible hair). Also, there’s a silly fight scene and a protracted Psycho reference.

5. Catsitting

I catsat(?) for my grandmother earlier this week and man, that cat is Jawesome. Unlike my own cat whose attitude towards me ranges from indifferent to uninterested, Sweetie couldn’t get enough of my attention. She’s a smallish Maine Coon and very playful and purr-y. Here, have a video.

6. Vampire books

I recently finished the second book of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s vampire trilogy, The Fall. It treats vampirism as a virus and that’s a cool touch but the writing never elevates above being strictly entertaining into the artfulness that GDT is capable of. You can spot his influence, including lifting scenes and plot points from almost all of his films (the subway setting of Mimic, the old man who wants to become a vampire to fix his body from Cronos, the auction scene from Hellboy 2 and so on and so forth) but this series could have been so much better if he’d actually written it. It misses his storytelling touch. I then started The Passage by Justin Cronin. I couldn’t remember if this was supposed to be a vampire or a zombie book and it ends up being kind of a mix of the two. It, too, treats vampirism as a virus but it’s scope is much more epic than The Fall‘s. The vampire apoclaypse happens relatively early and the book turns into a survival horror story akin to The Walking Dead or The Stand. It feels a lot like the best of Stephen King’s work, sprawling and personal at the same time. I’m only about a third of the way through the book and I look forward to seeing where it’s going. It is the first in a trilogy as well, so we’ll see how such a long story works for the topic. Luckily the writing is very good and the characters are interesting, so it’s got a good start.

7. Looper and Prometheus trailers

Looper is the the third film by Rian Johnson and it is getting a big push which will hopefully vault him into the public’s interest. The trailer is fantastic at showing the plot (a man who kills people for the mob from the future by means of time travel gets shaken up when he is tasked with killing his future-self) and the style, which is quite different looking from his two previous films (Brick and The Brothers Bloom, both of which appear on my Top 100 List) which were quite different from each other. Prometheus’s newest video isn’t a trailer, necessarily, but it is an intriguing and very well made introduction to Michael Fassbender’s character. If you want to go into the film knowing nothing I’d suggest that you don’t watch it but it is a very interesting watch. I like this kind of advertising, since this won’t be anywhere in the film itself it isn’t spoiling the viewing experience like seeing that zero-gravity shot from Inception every other commercial did and it’s giving us more Fassbender which is always appreciated.

There you have it, two bonus Jawesome Things. What kind of Jawesome Things have you seen?