LES VAMPIRES (director/writer: Louis Feuillade, cinematographer: Manichoux; cast: Jean Ayme (Le Grand Vampire), Edmond Bréon (Secrétaire de Satanas), Renée Carl (L'Andalouse), Miss Edith (Comtesse de Kerlor), Rita Herlor (Mrs Simpson), Fernand Herrman (Juan-José Moréno/Brichonnet), Louis Leubas (Satanas / Père Silence), Marcel Lévesque (Oscar Mazamette), Edouard Mathé (Philippe Guérande), Gaston Michel (Valet de chambre),  Frederik Moriss (Vénénos), Laurent Morléas (Officier de la Grande Armée), Musidora (Irma Vep), Stacia Napierkowska (Marfa Koutiloff), Delphine Renot (Mère de Guérande), Bout de Zan (Eustache Mazamette); Runtime: 440; Image Entertainment/Gaumont; 1915-France-in French with English subtitles)

"Les Vampires  is one of France's great classic contributions to the world of popular cinema..."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is a silent serial told in 10 chapters about subversive vampire thieves as they suck the blood out of sleeping bourgeois Parisian society, stealing their jewels in novel ways. The public loved these films, until the "talkie" pictures came into being and this film was forgotten until rediscovered in the 1950s by Henri Langlois and popularized in the 1960s by noted French directors such as Alain Resnais and Jacques Rivette.

The vampires are led by the irrepressible Irma Vep (Musidora), her name being an anagram for "vampire." Musidora was a former Music Hall star whose raven hair and seductive looks suited her villainous black-garbed heroine role in contrast to the sugary sweet-blonde American heroines at the time, who starred in popular serials such as The Perils of Pauline and The Exploits of Elaine.

The films were shot cheaply and fast in the Gaumont studios and on the surrounding Parisian streets. The film consists of combinations of lyrical and melodramatic scenes, and of an evolving crime-fiction story. The story line is full of disappearances and disguises, sudden deaths and uncanny resurrections, hidden trapdoors and secret tunnels, bus chases and rooftop escapes -- which gave the film its power and its sense of dread (perfectly matching the public's mood at the time of World War 1). And it was that, coupled with their almost anarchistic view of society (the vampires steal only from the rich), and their often contemptuous disregard of logic that made the films so popular. Les Vampires was treasured by Surrealists like Andre Breton and Louis Aragon, which gave it weight in intellectual circles.

The serial ran into some trouble with the Parisian chief of police, who had one of the  episodes banned for glamorizing the criminals. Feuillade, the former cavalryman and journalist, atoned for his 'sin' with more moralistic films in the future, such as his Judex (1916).

Les Vampires is one of France's great classic contributions to the world of popular cinema; and fortunately, this once lost film has now been restored and is available on video.

REVIEWED ON 2/17/99                        GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"