(Review originally written at 24 January 2007)

What an incredible piece of history and cinema this is. "Les Vampires" is an 10 episodes long French serial, by Louis Feuillade. A sort of early 20th century mini-series, you may call it. I can't imaging how incredibly gripped the audience must have been while watching one of the episodes in the theater and couldn't hardly wait for the next chapter of the story.

Of course these sort of chapter-plays weren't really anything new at the time of 1915 but still "Les Vampires" is one of the best and most unique as well as accessible of its kind. It has a greatly written and intriguing story, that shows the dark side of common men and the criminal and more disturbing, less peaceful and dangerous side of beautiful Paris.

The serial tells the story of an organized criminal organization, known as 'Les Vampires'. A sort of more rebellious than criminal, organization, who blackmail, kill and steal from the high society in Paris. The episodes follow this organization as well as the groups who battle them; a rivaling criminal organization, the police and a journalist and his friend, who are the real main characters of the movie.

Perhaps the entire serial can also be seen as a social commentary on the life of the rich in Paris but I can't be completely sure of this were the creators intentions.

The first four episodes are perhaps a bit of a drag, since it mostly focuses on development of the characters and the events. After that the gloves are off and the serial turns into a very exciting and tense serial, in which lots is happening, both action- and story-wise. The first few episodes also differ widely in its running time and some are around 15 minutes long, while other are around 30 or 45 minutes. The later episodes are all around an hour long.

The serial features lots of daring escapes, traitorous characters and criminal plans to cause mayhem in the everyday society. Yes, at times the serial gets overlong, since it often repeat itself. Basically the serial is about the characters constantly chasing and capturing each other, until they escape again and things seem to start all over again. It probably is also the reason why you shouldn't watch all the episodes just as once. Best is to watch around 2 episodes a day, to keep the tension and intriguing aspects of the story and characters to a maximum level.

The story telling is surprising good, for 1915 standards. The entire production is a silent one and it forces it to tell the story entirely by its visuals and acting. It does this well and makes the story understandable, although it gets a bit too hard to follow at certain points. Because it has to explain and tell everything with its visual, some of the sequences are overlong. The acting is of course also exaggerated at times, to put down a certain emotion or tension in the story but not as much as some of the early American of that time show. In that regard, the acting in this is truly about 20 years ahead of its time, compared to American and most German productions, of the same time period.

I was absolutely gripped by the storytelling, especially the last 4 episodes or so and even founded it to be tense and excitement, something not too common for an over 90 years old production, even though the story also became quite ridicules at times.

Perhaps the only flaw in the storytelling is that they kept bringing in new characters, also very late in the serial, such as the real main villain that only gets revealed in I believe the 7th episode. if I remember correctly. It makes the whole story a bit too hard to follow- and not always completely interesting and credibly at times.

It is well cast and especially Musidora as the über-lady vamp Irma Vep is great and impressive. She is both sensual as dangerous in her role. What a great early classic character of cinema. Also Marcel Lévesque is great, as the sort of comical relief of the serials and Édouard Mathé also plays a likable main character.

There are some really daring and dangerous, for its time looking, stunts in this production. It also really adds to the tension and excitement of it all.

The production design is great and its like going back in time when watching this. The serial cleverly uses some camera-color filters for each location and mood, to add to the atmosphere and storytelling of the entire serial.

It all in all is an overall very well put together interesting historical big-production, that still remains perfectly watchable by todays standards, thanks to its exciting storytelling and build up.


About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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