#62. Vampyr (1932)

Vampyr has a really similar vibe to Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s unlicensed 1922 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (which Stoker’s estate took to court and ordered to be destroyed, and it was, all but a few copies), and I think that, as a viewer, I made the same mistake here as I did with Murnau’s movie, which was to anticipate something that the filmmaker (C.T. Dreyer, in this case, whose last entry on the List was The Passion of Joan of Arc) wasn’t offering. Vampyr is really cerebral, more about mood than story, but I came to it in a mood of my own, flustered by family drama and looking to be entertained, and while the movie met that need for the first twenty minutes, in which it establishes a tone whose creepiness I don’t think I’ve ever seen surpassed, it slows down after that, turns pensive, seems to have less interest in entertaining its viewer than it does in trying to understand itself. It’s definitely a horror movie, but it also feels very…searching.

The movie starts with a guy named Allan (played by Julian West – born Nicolas de Gunzberg) who comes across a little B&B-type place out in the pastures. He’s an enthusiast for paranormal and occult stuff and so he decides to stay in this palce because it’s eerie as hell.

An old guy walks into Allan’s room in the middle of the night looking all distressed like, “She mustn’t be allowed to die!” (We don’t know who “she” is at this point.) Anyway. The old guy leaves a package on Allan’s desk with orders that it not be opened until his death, and then later on the old man dies and the package is broached and so on.

The rest of the story is interesting, sorta: Allan ends up a guest in the old guy’s home where his daughter, the aforementioned “she”, is being turned into a vampire. It’s whatever. If the movie is special it’s because of the imagery and mood.

A lot of the descriptions I’ve read say that this movie is dreamlike, that it explores the blurring of our imaginations and reality, and also I read some interesting views about how it explores the idea of agency. Dreyer’s vampire mythology says that a person’s soul is poisoned by the bite and that it drives them to such misery that they commit suicide, whereupon their soul becomes the vampire’s domain. Also we see Allan going about to explore this ghost town by himself and to confront these shadows that lurk from room to room totally free of their corporeal counterpart.

I’ve got a dog named Mango. Little ten-pound toy poodle. He’s fourteen. For most of his life he had a companion the same size and age and breed named Lady, but she died a couple years ago.

Once, in high school, I was home alone with the dogs when they both got diarrhea in the middle of the night. They danced around my bed until I took them outside and there, in the grass, they let loose. Afterward I put them in the big cage they sometimes shared, a nest of dog toys and blankets, for fear that they’d shit on my bed if I took them back to sleep with me. I lock them up, go back to my room, and turn in. About an hour later, maybe 3 a.m., they start barking. I go to the cage, let them out, and again they start doing the dance. So I take them out. Diarrhea. While they’re out there, locked in position, I step back into the house and check the cage. No stains. They’d held it, panicked at the idea of shitting among their toys. I told my mom about it when she came home and she said, “Yeah, that’s normal. They won’t deface the place they sleep in.

I realized that the dogs never shit or pissed in my room, either.

Time passed. Lady died. Once she was gone we sorta blocked the cage in with sofas. She’d always liked it in there but Mango never did. For Mango, the cage was a punishment. When he tore something up or snapped at Lady or pissed in the hall, we put him in there for a while. But now there seemed no point. It became a sad object.

More time passed. My folks got divorced, my mom moved out. Mango had domain over the house finally.

Sometimes, if he’s upset with me, he’ll piss right in front of my bedroom door. Never in the actual room, though. Even if the door is open. But he’s been doing it almost every day lately. Probably because I’ve got two jobs and he rarely sees me. Mostly I just clean it and give him a look and he slinks away.

Last night, just before bed, I came out of the shower all sore and flustered from the worst day of work I’ve had yet, and found, for the first time in maybe ten years, a puddle of urine beside my bed and Mango there beside it looking none too remorseful. It was weirdly shocking. Some strange heavy sadness at the sight of it. Then anger.

I picked him up and took him across the house, pulled the couches aside, and put him in the cage, where he hadn’t been in years, and as soon as I’d closed the gate and fastened the clasp I could see that he was looking around mesmerized, slouched with something like shame, and for a moment I felt like I could read his thoughts because they were mine too: that he hadn’t been in here since Lady died.

I went to the doorway and shut the light off and had a seat in the dark, resolving to just leave him there for a few minutes before taking him back to bed. Then I tried thinking of what he was thinking. He was probably thinking about Lady for the first time in a while. Missing her. So strangely resonant and upsetting and I figured finally it’s because the presence of Lady’s absence in that cage is painfully strong just as, in truth, the presence of my mom’s absence is everywhere in the house. The way it’s changed now that she’s gone. The way my dad talks about selling it. How Mango pissed in my room because it doesn’t feel like a home to him anymore because where’d I go? I’m never around. And I tried to think of how life has changed from Mango’s perspective. First my brother moved out, then Lady was gone, and then my mom left and now, for most of each day, I’m gone too, and his eyesight is deteriorating, and how confused he gets.

I took him out of the cage and carried him back to bed and with the light off I started crying for reasons I couldn’t then articulate but that now, in morning clarity, I can see have something to do with the presence of so many shadows. Family that was once here but is gone now save for the traces I project on each wall. Like the shadows haunting Dreyer’s down. A house fulla vampyrs


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