Blu-Ray Review: ‘Vampyr’ [Criterion Collection]: cult classic 1932 horror film gets immortalized on superb Criterion edition.
While not as well-known as other German expressionist horror films like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, director Carl Theodor Dreyer is revered in film geek circles. And for good reason–it’s an evocative nightmare that’s extremely visually accomplished for its time.
The 1932 film, about a dabbler in the occult who encounters evil spirits and creepy residents in a small French village uses pioneering visual tricks that added to its disorienting spell. Living shadows, a vampire’s curse, and other haunting imagery make it unforgettable. It’s also notable for its sound design accomplishments, being one of the earliest horror films with audio. And the film gets a new lease on undead life with Criterion’s new Blu-ray collector’s edition.
Criterion released a deluxe DVD edition a few years back, but with their new Blu-ray, Dreyer’s film now has the definitive treatment it deserves. This edition, in the film’s original German language, is presented in the original 1.19:1 aspect ratio, preserving its visual integrity. It also gets a high-def scan from a 355mm print, and while graininess and film scratches for a movie this age is unavoidable, its remarkably cleaner, with Dreyer’s vision at its most pristine. Shadows are a wonderful inky black, with sunlit scenes having a delightfully dreamy quality.
Audio-wise, there’s isn’t much of a difference from the 2008 DVD–including the option for English subtitles. A commentary from film scholar Tony Rayns adds illumination behind the film’s legacy, which is engaging and informative.
Special features (most of which are porter over from the 2008 Blu-ray) include Carl Th. Dreyer, a 1966 documentary about the wide-ranging career of the film’s director, a video essay by scholar Casper Tybjerg on the creative processes behind the film, and a 1958 radio interview with Dreyer.
The icing on the cake for this sumptuous release rely in printed materials: the Blu-ray packaging includes a booklet of the film’s script, along with a separate booklet featuring a variety of essays and an interview with the film’s star Nicolas de Gunzburg.
Vampyr is a must own for vintage film lovers, and horror fans seeking to class up their Halloween viewing. Criterion has done it again.
SPECIAL EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
- High-definition digital transfer of the original German-language version of the film from the 1998 restoration by Martin Koerber and the Cineteca di Bologna, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- Alternate version with English text
- Audio commentary from 2008 featuring film scholar Tony Rayns
- Carl Th. Dreyer, a 1966 documentary by Jørgen Roos chronicling Dreyer’s career
- Video essay by scholar Casper Tybjerg on Dreyer’s influences in creating Vampyr
- Radio broadcast from 1958 of Dreyer reading an essay about filmmaking
- PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by critics Mark Le Fanu and Kim Newman, a piece by Koerber on the restoration, and a 1964 interview with producer and actor Nicolas de Gunzburg, as well as a book (Blu-ray only) featuring Dreyer and Christen Jul’s original screenplay and Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 story “Carmilla,” a source for the film
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