"Superb Package For a Uniquely Strange Film"
Carl Dreyer's strange, fascinating, highly influential vampire picture gets a 90th anniversary Blu-ray release of a 2K restoration by the Danish Film Institute (that apparently took ten years) from Eureka.
'Dreamer' (so the opening text informs us) and H P Lovecraft lookalike Allan (or David depending on the version) Gray arrives in the small French village of Courtempierre, only to become immediately involved in strange goings-on. One of the two daughters of a rich family is sick. The cause may be an old lady who is in fact a vampire and aided by a weird doctor. Reality becomes blurred as Gray becomes more involved, imagining himself being buried alive and eventually discovering the tomb of the vampire, whom he stakes with a metal spike.
Based on not just Carmilla but apparently Carl Dreyer's response to the entire collection of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu's stories in which that novella first appeared (In a Glass Darkly), VAMPYR is a unique piece of genre film-making that, a little like the events its protagonist experiences, seems itself to exist somehow out of time. Released the year after Tod Browning's DRACULA (1931) had set the template for 'mainstream' horror. Dreyer's film is stubbornly experimental, light on both plot and action, and very much the art house piece.
Despite its poor distribution and lack of commercial success, watching it today it's easy to see just how much many celebrated horror film-makers (especially Europeans) were influenced. One can imagine Jean Rollin viewing that narrow grandfather clock and thinking how he'd like to see a very thin vampire lady emerge from it (he also pinched the swivelling skull for his 1971 LE FRISSON DES VAMPIRES), and the cracked vampire's tomb at the end looks a lot like Dr Freudstein's at the climax of Lucio Fulci's 1981 HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY.
Eureka's disc comes packed with extras. There are two commentary tracks, one by film critic Tony Rayns and the other by film-maker Guillermo del Toro. Kim Newman has a 22 minute talking head piece in which he compares VAMPYR to Robert Eggers' THE WITCH, stating that if you're in the wrong mood when you watch these films you'll find them tedious but if you're in the right mood they'll haunt you for the rest of your life, and I'd definitely agree with him on that.
David Huckvale offers a superb and detailed breakdown of Wolfgang Zeller's music score, and Mr Huckvale is back to tell us more about In a Glass Darkly and its influence on the film. The Baron is a short film about Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg, VAMPYR's star, who essentially funded it in return for the lead role (and he's not bad at all), and Jorgen Roos' 1966 Dreyer documentary is on here too. Don't forget to watch the censored scenes, which offer more footage of the staking and of the evil doctor's climactic suffocation in the grain mill. Finally, you get a 100 page book featuring stills, interviews, and essays and the entire package is housed in a hardbound slipcase.
The 90th Anniversary 2K Restoration of Carl Dreyer's VAMPYR is out from Eureka on Monday 30th May 2022