This is the tale of the strange adventures of young Allan Gray
Allan Gray (Julian West) is a student of the occult. He has been traveling for some time. He arrives, in the evening, to an inn in the hamlet of Courtempierre. As he uneasily sleeps, an old man (Maurice Schutz) enters his room. He puts a package on the table and tells him that the woman must not die. He then leaves the room. Gray is intrigued yet a little unnerved by the visit. On the package is written; to be opened after my death. Puzzled, Allan puts the package in his pocket and goes out.
He wanders around the area for awhile until he finds an old house. Wandering through the house he sees a different man with glasses (Jan Hieronimko) who and receives a bottle of poison from an old woman. Allan continues on his wanderings. He then comes to an old castle. He looks in the window and sees the man who had entered his room earlier that night. Then he sees a shadow with a gun. Someone shoots the old man. Inside the house are the daughters of the old man Gisèle (Rena Mandel) and Léone (Sybille Schmitz) as well as a nun and a few old servants.
Allan is asked to stay. He sits on the couch and opens the parcel he had been given. Inside is a book on vampires. As he is reading the book he finds out that one of the daughters, Léone is seriously ill from being bitten by a vampire. When the doctor arrives at the castle Allan sees that it is the man with the glasses that had been given the poison. Allan asks the doctor about Leone. The doctor tells him that she needs a blood transfusion. He asks Allan if he is willing to donate his blood. Allan submits to the transfusion. Exhausted from the loss of blood, Allan falls asleep.
When the doctor is alone with Leone he places the bottle of poison at her bedside table. While Allan sleeps, one of the household members reads the vampire book and understands what is really going on. He rouses Allan. They confront the doctor who flees. Allan prevents Leone from taking the poison. Then he realizes that the doctor is gone, and so is the other daughter, Gisele.
“Vampyr” was released in 1932 and was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. It is supposedly loosely based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu's lesbian vampire story “Carmilla” (1872), which is about a young girl seduced by a female acquaintance. Any lesbianism did not make it to the screen so don’t look for that. The film was a commercial failure when it was released in 1932 and ruined Dreyer's production company. He reportedly had a nervous breakdown over it and did not return to films for a decade.
There is so much that could be said about the making of the film. Dreyer did not like to use professional actors. Most of the actors were regular people. A model, a widow, a journalist. The lead actor West was a French born Russian noble who financed the movie in exchange for a leading part. It was Dreyer’s first talkie. It was dubbed into French, German and English. No English versions have been found. Even the German and French versions are cobbled together. And much more.
During the movie we learn some things, and we are totally confused by some things. We learn that the vampire is a woman called Marguerite Chopin (Henriette Gerard). The doctor is one of her minions. Allan is not the real hero. What we are confused by; due to loss of blood, Allan appears to have some kind of dream or nightmare where he is dead and yet awake and being buried. Characters appear and disappear that have little or nothing to do with the movie. The use of shade and shadow sometimes carries the story along and sometimes just confuses the situation. Not everything has a reason.
Even with the confusing aspects, or perhaps because of them, the movie is a haunting and frightening display of surrealism. There were some cinematic aspects that I have never seen in a film before. It is moving art. You will either love it or hate it.
There are some bad prints out there. Get the criterion version. It’s much cleaner.