Vampyr (1932) (German: Vampyr – Der Traum des Allan Grey, "Vampire: the Dream of Allan Grey" was a French-German horror film directed by Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer and was written was by Dreyer and Christen Jul borrowing from the stories Carmilla and The Room in the Dragon Volant by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.
Dreyer began his film career as a title writer, then scriptwriter and finally directing his first film in 1919. By the late 1920s he was hailed as the greatest director ever to emerge from Danish cinema. After finishing his masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) Dreyer found the European film industry in turmoil and financing was difficult to obtain.
Dreyer met would be actor and aristocrat Nicolas de Gunzburg, who agreed to finance Vampyr (1932) in exchange for playing the lead role in the film. Dreyer agreed and filming began in 1930 with Gunzburg playing the lead along with a cast made up of non-professional actors the only professional actors in the film were Sybille Schmitz and Maurice Schutz.
The Gunzburg family disapproved Nicolas de Gunzburg’s goal of becoming an actor, so he worked under the pseudonym Julian West. Nicolas de Gunzburg’s acting career was short-lived, Vampyr (1932) would be his only featured role. Gunzburg later became an editor at several American publications, including Town & Country, Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar and was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1971.
The film was shot on actual locations with many scenes filmed in Courtempierre, France. Dreyer and his cinematographer Rudolph Maté did take part in some of the scouting for locations. However, Dreyer left most of the scouting duties to an assistant, who Dreyer instructed to find "a factory in ruins, a chopped up phantom, worthy of the imagination of Edgar Allan Poe.” The old castle featured in the film also served as the lodging for the cast and crew.
In the original script, the doctor was to flee the village and get trapped in a swamp. While searching for a suitable location for the swamp, the crew found a mill. Seeing the white shadows around the windows and doors, they decided to change the film's ending to take place at the mill where the doctor would die by suffocating under the milled flour. Dreyer achieved the strange, dream-like photography by placing a thin gauze in front of the lens as a filter. The neglected and dirty look of the doctor's surgery covered in cobwebs was achieved by Dreyer breaking jam jars on the floor then leaving the room shut-off for over a month to attract various bugs and insects.
While the director may have mastered the photographic effects of the film, the audio for Vampyr (1932) proved to be a daunting challenge for Dreyer. This was Dreyer’s first sound film and the dialogue had to be dubbed in three languages English, French and German. To overcome this challenge, very little dialogue was used and large portion of the story is told with silent film-styled title cards. The actors were required to mouth their lines in French, German and English so their lip movements would match the voices that would be dubbed into the audio track during postproduction.
The film was shot and edited in France and then was brought to Berlin, Germany for postproduction, where the dialogue was dubbed in both German and French. The sounds of dogs, parrots, and other animals in the film were actually done by professional imitators. The music was composed by Wolfgang Zeller who work closely with Dreyer in developing the film's score.
Vampyr (1932) premiered in Berlin Germany on May 6, 1932, the German audience booed the film and Dreyer re-edited the film cutting several scenes. The re-edited film fared only slightly better in France. At a showing of the film in Vienna, audiences demanded their money back. When the theater owner refused a riot broke out and the police were called to restore order. Dreyer did not show up for the film’s Danish premiere in Copenhagen, Denmark in March 1933 where it fared no better than it had with previous audiences. The film, ridiculed by audiences and critics alike was a complete financial failure. Dreyer soon had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in France. He returned to journalism in 1932 and would not make another film until 1943.
When asked what his intentions were for the film, Dreyer replied that he "had not any particular intention. I just wanted to make a film different from all other films. I wanted, if you will, to break new ground for the cinema. That is all. And do you think this intention has succeeded? Yes, I have broken new ground. "
Vampyr (1932) was at one time, considered a low point in Dreyer's career, but the film has begun to enjoy a more favorable reception with horror fans and critics, noted for its visual effects and eerie atmosphere. Although the film’s first half is slow and tedious to watch it does present the viewer with some incredible haunting images, the kind that nightmares are made of.