“It would be vain my attempting to tell you the horror with which, even now, I recall the occurrence of that night.” So wrote Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu in his novella Carmilla, first published in serial form in 1872 in The Dark Blue and then in his short story collection of the same year In a Glass Darkly, preceding Bram Stoker’s Dracula by a quarter of a century. While Stoker was first to receive a cinematic adaptation, Murnau’s Nosferatu celebrating its centenary this year, Le Fanu’s creation was not far behind with Vampyr released in 1932.

Directed by Mikaël’s Carl Theodor Dreyer, Vampyr – Der Traum des Allan Grey (Vampyr: The Dream of Allan Gray) was the director’s first “talkie” after over a decade working in silent film and he was not entirely comfortable with the transition with the dialogue sparse and used almost as if it was simply the caption cards of a silent movie spoken aloud, accompanied by consciously hazy photography which imbues the whole with a dreamlike quality.

The story of weary traveller Allan Gray (Julian West, a pseudonym for Dreyer’s co-producer Nicolas de Gunzberg), a self-confessed dreamer obsessed with devil worship and vampires “for whom the line between the real and the supernatural became blurred,” he arrives in the village of Courtempierre seeking lodging at the inn by the river, but awakening in his grim room lit only by flickering candlelight he witnesses the first in a series of strange events.

An old man leaves a book with instructions it is to be opened on his death; voices are heard from upstairs where a man deformed by great age mutters to himself; a man’s shadow goes walking without him and the gravedigger moves backwards, and guided to a nearby mansion Gray witnesses the murder of the man who left the book while upstairs the man’s sickly daughter Léone (Sybille Schmitz, hypnotic even on her deathbed) calls for blood.

Shot by Rudolph Maté who would later work on Stella Dallas and Gilda before moving to directing himself, his most famous film perhaps 1951’s science fiction disaster epic When Worlds Collide, Vampyr is presented as a mystery of mood and shadow, Gray caught in a waking nightmare which makes no sense, the impenetrable characters he meets in thrall to forces he cannot see.

That force is Marguerite Chopin (Henriette Gérard), long dead but her shadowy influence over her minions persisting beyond the grave, Gray witnessing both her power and her pain as he experiences a vision of being buried alive, fully aware but helpless, a sequence still disturbing ninety years later and echoed in the final scenes as the accomplices of the vampire are hunted by the ghosts of those they have wronged.

As with Nosferatu, the lore not as culturally embedded as it has become Vampyr is necessarily heavy on exposition as presented in the book given to Gray by the late Lord of the Manor (Maurice Schutz), Paul Bonnat’s Die Seltsame Geschichte der Vampyre (The Strange History of Vampires) serving as a guide to the habits of the undead and how they may be defeated.

Restored in 2K for its ninetieth anniversary from multiple sources to create the definitive version of Dreyer’s haunting vision and subsequently released on Blu-ray in the UK for the first time, the disc will also carry commentaries by Tony Rayns and Guillermo del Toro, deleted scenes, a 1966 documentary on Dreyer and features on Wolfgang Zeller’s soundtrack and the adaptation of the source material.

Vampyr is on limited cinema release in the UK and Ireland from 20th May and will be followed by a limited edition Blu-ray set from Eureka on Monday 30th May



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