Vampyr (Bounty) (1932)
Audio Commentary-Film critic John Noonan and Leslie Morris
Alternative Version-Castle of Doom (52:45)
|Year Of Production||1932|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Carl Theodor Dreyer|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.19:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.19:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Vampyr (or Vampyr – Der Traum des Allan Grey) is a 1932 expressionist horror film made by director Carl Theodor Dreyer. The film was made as a silent and voices overdubbed in post-production; in fact there were dubs produced in French, German and English. No print of the English version exists so all current versions of the film are an amalgam of the German and French versions, although dialogue is limited and the film retains interposed text cards, except for dialogue.
Allan Grey (Julian West) is a researcher into Satanism and vampirism. While staying at a small village inn one night a man (Maurice Schutz) enters his room, says “she mustn’t die” and leaves Grey a parcel on which is inscribed “to be opened upon my death”. Next morning, Grey goes wandering, as you do, and comes across the mysterious town doctor (Jan Hieronimko) and shadows seeming divorced from their physical selves. He follows some of the shadows/shades to the chateau of the man who had given him the parcel. He has two daughters, Gisele (Rena Mandel) and Leone (Sybille Schmitz), who is ill. Grey sees the man shot dead, and opens the parcel: it is a book about vampires, their deeds and how to destroy them. Grey gives some of his blood as a transfusion for Leone at the request of the Doctor: afterwards he has an out of body experience, including seeing his own dead body in a coffin being buried. A servant (Albert Bras) also reads the vampire book, which names the suspected vampire. He and Grey exhume the body of the vampire and drive a stake through it, freeing the daughters. The doctor, who had aided the vampire, comes to a floury end.
To say that Vampyr is an unusual film is a gross understatement. It is an expressionist, surreal film full of shadows, unusual and fluid camera angles and with a disjointed dream-like quality (some shots were done with a gauze over the camera lens), matched by a disorientating sound design, with voices and snatches of conversation seeming coming at random. Parts of the film have stunning imagery such as the villager with the scythe or the light and shadow in the Doctors residence, and camera innovations abound; the shadow sequences are amazing. As well, we are never too sure about Grey’s sanity or whether all this is a dream; even before the out of body experience he sees a shadow of a man who was not there as well as a figure with a scythe, who may be death. The cast, almost without exception, were not professional actors including the leading man who, credited as Julian West, was in fact Dutch aristocrat Baron Nicholas De Gunzberg, who financed the picture!
Vampyr was loosely based on the 1872 novella Carmilla by Sheridan LeFanu. Director Carl Theodor Dreyer, who had achieved critical success with his silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc in 1928, was reported as saying that in Vampyr he “wanted to create a visual daydream to demonstrate the psychological dimensions of horror”. He probably succeeded all too well for he managed to alienate his audience and Vampyr was a commercial failure which caused Dreyer to suffer a nervous breakdown and not make another film for a decade.
However, with time, Vampyr has grown in stature and is now regarded as a horror classic, an innovative and audacious film. Blending silent screen acting and some stunning black and white visuals, it is still a fascinating film to watch.
Most film fans would have a copy of the film as it has been released on numerous occasions around the world on DVD and Blu-ray with different specifications and extras. DVDBeaver provides some examples here as does the dvdcompare site here. I also reviewed a previous Australian release of the film here while another release, in a double feature with Nosteratu, was reviewed by a reader of the site here. So what is the source of this new release from Bounty and does it have anything new to offer?
The first question is difficult to answer as the DVD box cover and the distributors provide no information but from comparing the screen captures on the DVDBeaver site this release looks similar to the US Criterion English text version. This Bounty release also features a good commentary by Australian film critic John Noonan and Leslie Morris recorded specifically for this DVD and, as an extra, Castle of Doom, the version of Vampyr that was recut and redubbed by the US distributor. This is quite rare – see the extras section below for more details.
However, this Australian release is flawed as the German dialogue in the film is NOT subtitled! Non-German speakers may get by as there is not a lot of dialogue and both the interposed text cards and the pages of the vampire book are in English, the book in fact providing an explanation before the event plays out. However, important plot points such as the inscription written on the package given to Grey “to be opened upon my death” is not translated; this is a difficult enough film to follow even when you know what is being said.
Vampyr is presented in a ratio of 1.19:1. It is in PAL and my computer reads the film as 16x9; it does display in the proper 4x3 ratio on my widescreen TV.
This black and white print is soft and detail can be lacking. Interiors are pretty good but some of the exterior sequences are very hazy (see 32:07, 54:07 or 67:58). Blacks vary, but are mostly acceptable, but shadow detail can be indifferent – see 39:36. Brightness and contrast does vary and there are scratches and marks, but they are not excessive. This is an improvement over the previous release of the film I reviewed (see link above) and in addition the screen captures on the DVDBeaver site show that the hazy scenes noted above are in all the existing prints, including Blu-rays, so this is obviously a source issue, not authoring. I must say that for a film that is heading towards 90 years old it looks pretty good – for a comparison to how it could have looked one only needs to watch Castle of Doom, an extra on this DVD.
The scores take into account the age of the film.
The audio is German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 192 Kbps; the English audio commentary is the same specification.
The limited dialogue could be heard OK. Effects are infrequent as befitting a film originally made as a silent, but knocks on the door, carriage wheels and the machinery in the mill at the end are good enough. Unlike the previous release I reviewed, there was only occasional slight hiss and hum and crackles were not present, so this is a vast improvement. There is obviously no surround or sub-woofer use.
The score by Wolfgang Zeller is reasonably effective.
With so little dialogue, lip synchronization was acceptable.
|Surround Channel Use|
This commentary was recorded for this Bounty release. Australian film critic John Noonan and Leslie Morris chat about the film, discussing the career and techniques of Carl Dreyer, Julian West and other cast members, the making of the film, its themes, the different versions, reactions to the film at the time of its release, vampire lore, the ending. There are silences but they provide a lot of information about the film.
This film is Vampyr, recut and scenes reordered by the American distributor and an almost continuous, pretentious, voice-over narration added, the narrator being the elderly servant which changes the focus of the film markedly. The book about vampires given to Grey becomes instead a journal written by the father of the girls, and the ending is more upbeat and unambiguous.
This is a very poor print. It is soft and smudgy, some scenes are just a whiteout, there are marks, scratches, missing frames and jumps, shadow detail is non-existent and the film’s opening titles and the journal are impossible to read. The audio is also in poor condition. There is consistent hiss and crackle, drop outs and the dialogue and narration are hard, sometime impossible, to understand. The only positives I can see are that this print preserves some of the original English dub of the film that is now lost and that it shows just how good Vampyr looks in comparison.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
As noted in the body of the review there are good releases of Vampyr in Region 1 and Region 2, with decent extras. Fans of the film will no doubt already have one of the better releases if their system will support other regions. This Bounty release, however, does feature extras that are not available elsewhere.
Vampyr remains, after all these years, a surreal and disorienting expressionist horror film that is still very impressive in its style and execution. If you already have a decent copy of Vampyr this Bounty release cannot be recommended due to the absent subtitles, although it looks good and the commentary and the very rare Castle of Doom
|DVD||Sony BDP-S580, using HDMI output|
|Display||LG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||NAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.|
|Speakers||Studio Acoustics 5.1|