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Tag: LesVampires

The Bloody Wedding (1916)

Alternate Titles: The Terrible Wedding, Les noces sanglantes

We finally reach the last chapter of the serialLes Vampires” by Louis Feuillade. Although this episode ends with a kind of resolution, it doesn’t differ all that much in structure from the previous chapters of the story.

A happy couple.

A happy couple.

One change is that, whereas previously episodes had little time lapse between them, in this case the story picks up several months after the last one. Philippe Guérande (Édouard Mathé), the reporter-hero of the story, is now married to Jane (Louise Lagrange). We don’t even get to see a wedding! Philippe writes an obscure article about how the Vampires have been quiet lately, but refers to some never-depicted crimes in which he can “detect their handiwork.” Then Augustine (Germaine Rouer), the widow of the poisoned concierge from the previous episode, stops by for a visit. Guérande hires her as a housemaid at Jane’s suggestion, to help her through her difficult time. Mazamette (Marcel Lévesque) stops over and appears very happy at this news.

A grieving widow.

A grieving widow.

We learn, however, that the Vampires are spying on Augustine by crawling on the rooftop and watching through the skylight. They see her trying to predict her fortune with cards, something which Jane disapproves of. So, they send her an anonymous invitation from a fortune teller who promises to reveal “the mysteries that surround you.” Of course, what she really wants is information that will lead to the capture of the Vampires. So, she lies to Guérande and says she is going to visit her husband’s grave, but actually goes to the fortune teller. Fortunately, Mazamette is now smitten with her, and follows her secretly, discovering the location she is really visiting. Irma Vep (Musidora) and another Vampire put on a show of spiritualism for her, pretending to be visions of themselves so that she will believe in the fortune teller’s powers, and then hypnotize her so that she will admit them to Guérande’s apartment. Mazamette confronts her on the way out, but doesn’t see any Vampires, so doesn’t really think anything is wrong.

A jealous suitor.

A jealous suitor.

That night, Irma Vep and Venomous, the new head Vampire (Frederik Moriss), show up with an apparatus for filling a room with poison gas. Augustine lets them in under a trance and they attack her and tie her up, then attach the apparatus to the keyhole of Guérande’s bedroom, but Mazamette, who cannot sleep because his infatuation is so strong, sees all of this happen and hides behind an arras. Once they have begun to pump the gas, Mazamette fires his gun, and they run off in a panic. He switches off the device, and helps Guérande untie Augustine when he wakes up. Augustine, Mazamette and Guérande (still in his bedclothes) go to report to the police, and Jane is left alone with a pistol for protection. Venomous returns, trying to break into Jane’s bedroom with a glass-cutter, but she shoots at him and then goes to the window. A Vampire on the sidewalk below lassos her and pulls her down, thus capturing her and they drive off with her as a captive.

A nocturnal attack.

A nocturnal attack.

It takes quite a few hours for Mazamette and Guérande to rouse the police to make a raid on the fortune teller’s house, but eventually they all drive out together (without even checking at home first). Astonishingly, the Vampires are there, rather than some other hideout, so the police are able to roust them. Irma Vep escapes by winding a long rope around herself and spinning to the ground like a yo-yo. They leave a bomb (that never goes off) and manage to capture Augustine, who was brought along for some reason, so the whole thing is a failure anyway, except that Mazamette shoots at their car and causes an oil leak, giving him and Guérande a trail to follow. For some reason he goed alone, without calling in the police this time or even waiting for Mazamette. He finds Jane and Augustine held in a cell below the chateau and passes them a pistol. Then he goes away until nightfall.

A daring escape.

A daring escape.

That night the Vampires are all drinking and celebrating the marriage of Irma Vep and Venomous. No one is guarding the prisoners or the chateau, so Guérande knots a rope and ties it a second story balcony in preparation for an escape. The police raid the party and a gun battle breaks out, and most of the Vampires wind up on the balcony, which Guérande now causes to collapse with the rope. Venomous and his lackeys are killed in the crash. Irma Vep, meanwhile, runs down to the hostages and threatens them with a gun. Jane shoots her with the pistol Guérande gave her and he runs in to find them over her body. A few days later, Mazamette proposes to Augustine and all ends on a happy note.

A lively dance.

A lively dance.

As I said above, this episode is a lot like the others, in that we see various captures and escapes, and the trade-off between hunter and hunted, as the story proceeds. There are the usual leaps in logic: Why did Venomous and Irma Vep go back to the fortune teller’s house, when they know the police will get that information? Why doesn’t Guérande have better security by now? Why does it take so long for the police to organize either of the raids? We’ve gotten used to the idea that Mazamette is estranged from the wife he had at the beginning of the story, but it still seems odd that he starts stalking the widow so soon after her bereavement. Also, the idea that you could follow a trail of motor oil on city streets is pretty hard to credit – anyone leaking that much oil wouldn’t get far.

An unlikely discovery.

An unlikely discovery.

In all, I would rate “Les Vampires” a little lower than “Fantômas,” not least because of the lack of a truly effective villain. The Vampires go through three leaders (or four, if we can count Moréno), none of whom really seems as diabolically brilliant as Fantômas. The one consistent thread is Irma Vep, who I must admit makes up for it somewhat with her powerful presence. Musidora is at times sultry and seductive, at others snarling and animalistic, and always seems dedicated to crime and evil. Unfortunately, she also seems to be more of a girlfriend than a leader. She’s always “with” the head Vampire, never taking charge herself. On the other side of the law, Juve wasn’t a great hero, but he’s a darn sight better than Guérande. Mazamette is the character we care about on that side of the team, but he’s ultimately a sidekick as well.

A tense situation.

A tense situation.

That’s all from the point of view of the script, but in terms of filmmaking Feuillade does show some interesting improvements in “Les Vampires” over “Fantômas.” There’s much more use of close-ups and different camera angles, rather than proscenium-style set pieces, for example. The editing has improved as well. For example, in this episode the sequence in which Venomous tries to get in the window to get Jane is cross-cut in a wonderfully suspenseful manner that actually had me tense to the point of yelling at the screen. The audience knows that Jane has a gun, and we see her see Venomous’s hand at the window, but Feuillade keeps cutting back and forth and we wonder if she has the courage to shoot right up to the last moment. It’s a sequence worthy of Alfred  Hitchcock, and there was nothing like it in “Fantômas.” The first police raid also includes some good cross-cutting between the police and the villains, although that was sort of ruined when the bomb didn’t go off.

I probably won’t return to this series as often as I do to “Fantômas,” but it’s been good to see Feuillade’s further development. Next, I’ll have to move on to “Judex!”

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Manichoux

Starring: Édouard Mathé, Frederik Moriss, Marcel Lévesque, Musidora, Louise Lagrange, Germaine Rouer

Run Time: 55 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

The Poison Man (1916)

Halloween has come and gone, but I’m not yet finished with the crime serial called “Les Vampires!” In this episode, a new Grand Master takes charge of the Vampires’ ongoing quest to snuff out Mazamette and Philipe Guérande, but Irma Vep still gets most of the screen time.

Venemous at work.

Venemous at work.

At the beginning of the movie, we establish “Venemous,” (played by Frederik Moriss) the “brilliant but deranged chemist” who is the new Grand Master of the Vampires, hard at work in his chemical laboratory, assisted by Irma Vep (Musidora). He receives a message with invisible ink on it, revealing it by brushing it with a special chemical. It states that Guérande (Édouard Mathé) is engaged to be wed to Jane Bremontier (Louise Lagrange), and that he visits his fiancée every day. He sends Irma Vep and two female collaborators to rent the apartment above Bremontier’s. They are able to learn about an upcoming dinner party and get the proposed menu from a maid. Venemous now calls the caterer and cancels the order, substituting Vampires for the caterers on the night of the event.

A generous tenant

A generous tenant

On the day of the party, the Vampires are admitted and allowed to prepare and serve the meal. However, Jane’s mother gives a bottle of the champagne to the concierge to thank him for helping to bring up the food from the delivery, and when he tastes it, he dies! His wife runs up to the party to warn everyone not to drink the champagne, which no one has touched yet because Mazamette (Marcel Lévesque) is making a very long-winded toast. The Vampires in the kitchen realize the gig is up and escape out the window, but Venemous, who is dressed as a valet, must hide in a cabinet in the dining room. Mazamette tries to catch him in the dark, but winds up fighting with Guérande instead. Venemous is also able to escape over the rooftops of Paris.

poison-man2Now Guérande becomes convinced that he must move his fiancée to the country in order to hide her, but Irma Vep sees the car arrive to pick them up and takes a perfume bottle full of sleeping gas to surprise them. Mazamette has been hiding in a trunk on the side of the car, however, and he attacks her. Irma Vep is able to spray him with the gas and her accomplices remove him. Then, she hides in the trunk. Mazamette is dumped on the street and taken to the police station, believed to be drunk. When he wakens, he calls Philipe to warn him, but Irma slips out of the box and gets away in the car before Philipe can catch her.

Musidora is horizontal for much of the film.

Musidora is horizontal for much of the film.

Irma Vep now finds herself at a fancy restaurant in the Fontainebleau forest. She summons Venemous by telephone, but Guérande turns up first and attacks her, tying her up and leaving her on the road as a car approaches (almost a rare case of a woman tied to train tracks!). The car contains Mazamette, who stops at first to assist the damsel in distress before recognizing her. Guérande has been waiting nearby with a pistol, and now he joins his friend. They put Irma Vep in Mazamette’s car and go to lie in wait for the arrival of the Grand Master of the Vampires at the restaurant. However, when he arrives, Irma Vep honks the horn with her head and he finds her there and they drive off together in Mazamette’s car, with Guérande and Mazamette in pursuit in his car.

poison-man4

You’re doing it wrong! You’re ruining it for me!

After a lively chase, Venomous leaps out of the vehicle; Philipe chases Venomous on foot, following him onto the top of a moving train, but Venomous gets away, shooting him in the leg. Mazamette has been restrained from jumping onto the train by two well-meaning policemen, and he punches one of them. He is held for assaulting an officer, but when Guérande shows up and strikes him in the police station, the police decide to forget the whole affair.

poison-man5I found this episode to be more visually satisfying than most of the others, in part because so much of it is shot on location in the streets of Paris or the forest of Fontainebleau. We get some nice blue tinting on the night shots. Also, there was a good amount of close-ups, including on Mazamette and Guérande when they first enter the darkened room, and some good camera angles when, at various times, Irma Vep is lying on the ground, and in order to see the figures escaping across the rooftops. Finally, the editing of the chase sequence was very satisfying, including some classic cross-cutting, even though I’ve seen critics who claim Feuillade never used any. The chase across the top of a train was, of course, similar to many Westerns that had already been released, beginning with “The Great Train Robbery,” but it is handled well here also.

This is how Mazamette rolls.

This is how Mazamette rolls.

I usually criticize some aspects of the strained logic in each episode, but this one has only minor departures from logic. The biggest is that, since we’ve already established that Guérande is a teetotaler, it doesn’t make much sense to put poison only in his champagne, instead of the rest of the meal. Of course, it may well be that even a truly sober Frenchman has to sip a little champagne at his own engagement, so maybe that was safe. I was a little surprised that Venemous himself turned up at the party in the guise of a butler, but at this point we’ve gotten used to the Grand Vampires taking ridiculous and unnecessary personal risks, so we’ll give that a pass as well. There’s a somewhat silly bit when a figure in Vampire disguise climbs up a drainpipe – in order to deliver a perfume bottle in Irma Vep. Surely the front door would work just as well. The one part that doesn’t make much sense to me is why is Mazamette riding in the trunk in the first place? Surely the Vampires are going to assume that he is wherever Guérande and his fiancée are, so it doesn’t seem like it would really help much in terms of security. Still, it’s a minor point and doesn’t interfere much with the enjoyment of this episode.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Manichoux

Starring: Édouard Mathé, Marcel Lévesque, Musidora, Frederik Moriss, Louise Lagrange, Florense Simoni

Run Time: 50 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

The Lord of Thunder (1916)

This week’s episode of “Les Vampires” continues the serial’s pattern of capture-and-escape, with the emphasis on the villains this time out. Musidora, as Irma Vep, manages to have a record number of wardrobe changes, and Mazamette (Marcel Lévesque) remembers that he has a family.

lord-of-thunder

Irma Vep in her prison uniform.

This episode begins where the last one ended – with Moréno and Irma Vep in the custody of police and Satanas (Louis Leubas), the true Grand Master of the Vampires, still at large and unknown to the heroes. Irma is informed that her lover has been executed for his crimes, and that she will be transferred to a prison colony in Algeria for life. Satanas reads this news as well, and disguises himself as a priest, taking a hotel room with a view of the ocean in Montmartre. He then visits the women’s prison, distributing religious literature, but Irma Vep is able to decode a message in her pamphlet that warns her to leap into the ocean, because the boat will be destroyed by an explosion. Satanas then returns to the hotel, where his cohorts have been building one of his handy transportable cannons, and he destroys the ship with a single shell.

Irma Vep, in her traveling-to-Algeria getup.

Irma Vep, in her traveling-to-Algeria getup.

Meanwhile, Philippe Guérande has managed to use the codebook he got from the Grand Inquisitor in episode 2 to figure out that the shell must have been fired from Montmartre. Mazamette, who has dropped by to let him and his mother know that he is being considered for the “academic palms,” offers to investigate. He is unsuccessful on his first day, but then his son Eustache (played by Bout-de-Zan) arrives, having been expelled from school for bad behavior. The two of them dress as garbage pickers and return to Montmartre, where they find a cannon shell being delivered to the Grand Master of the Vampires in a hat box.

lord-of-thunder2Satanas stops by Guérande’s house and uses his paralyzing pin to immobilize him while secreting a time bomb in a top hat to blow up the apartment. He sticks a note to Guérande’s collar that proclaims that he has been condemned to avenge the death of Irma Vep. Mazamette arrives in time to see Satanas leaping from the window of the apartment into a waiting getaway car, then is able to find the ticking top hat and dispose of it before it explodes, saving the day. He announces that he now has the address of the Grand Master of the Vampires.

lord-of-thunder3Eustache and Mazamette return to Montmartre and attempt to sneak in to Satanas’s home, but Satanas uses a peephole hidden in a mask on the wall to see what they are doing and locks Mazamette into a chest, while threatening Eustache, who pulls out a gun and shoots at Satanas. Satanas acts as if he was hit, but then gets up and grabs the child, when suddenly thee police break down the door and apprehend him. Mazamette is rescued from the chest, but his face is covered with blood – somehow Eustache’s bullet hit him in the nose!

lord-of-thunder4Meanwhile, Irma Vep has escaped from the shell after all, and turns up at a railroad station, fainting from hunger and weakness. The railyard workers help her to recover and take up a collection for her, charmed by a phony story of a romantic tragedy that she makes up. She then heads back to the nightclub we saw in episode three, and announces her survival by performing on the stage – the assembled Vampires all recognize her voice. She is taken to the hideout in victory and a couple perform an Apache Dance in her honor. Then, the news of Satanas’s arrest comes, and Venomous (Fredrik Moriss), a “brilliant but deranged chemist” announces that he has been deputized to lead the gang in such a circumstance. They mail a seemingly innocuous letter to Satanas, which Satanas eats to commit suicide.

Irma Vep, in her

Irma Vep, in her “riding-the-rails” outfit.

We’re certainly going through the villains quickly in this serial! Only Irma Vep seems to survive, while the male leaders of the gang fall like flies. I found Satanas to be at least as dull of a villain as the old Master Vampire was, though, so no great loss here. I have some hope for the “deranged chemist,” Venomous, for these final chapters. The scene where Irma Vep arrived at the train station was somewhat shocking to me – because Louis Feuillade had Musidora lie on the tracks while an actual train passed overhead! A very dangerous stunt, luckily she was thin enough to pull it off without injury. The arrival of Bout-de-Zan was quite a thrill as well, although he didn’t have all that much to do in this episode, besides shooting his father in the nose, and we didn’t get much of a sense of the playful troublemaking that made him a huge star. Also, the shots of the ship blowing up appeared to be taken from actual footage of naval warfare, suggesting that this was one of the first movies to cut stock footage into its storyline.

Irma Vep's not even sure where these clothes came from.

Irma Vep’s not even sure where these clothes came from.

And, now, let’s pause to consider the logic of the story, as always. OK, so assuming that you can transport a cannon in pieces inside of a couple of large trunks, what are the chances you can fire it out a hotel window without getting reported to the authorities? No one complained about the noise? Montmartre must be a pretty raucous place for no one to have minded cannon fire! Also, Mazamette is remarkably fortunate in this episode: not only does he just happen to literally stumble upon a cannon shell being delivered to a particular address, he takes a bullet to the nose that fortunately didn’t go into his brain! Finally, I certainly wouldn’t be eager to advance in a criminal gang with such a high death rate among its leadership. Given the frequency with which they escape from the police as well, it would seem some kind of rescue would be attempted before sending the “poison pen” letter to Satanas.

Irma Vep goes incognito.

Irma Vep goes incognito.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Manichoux

Starring: Édouard Mathé, Musidora, Marcel Levésque, René Poyen, Louis Leubas, Fredrik Moriss, Florense Simoni, Renée Carl

Run Time: 51 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

The Red Cryptogram (1915)

This week’s episode of “Les Vampires” is being reviewed as part of the Silent Cinema Blogathon at “In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.” I’m always pleased that film fans are taking the chance to learn about early and silent cinema, and I hope you’ll check out the other entries as well this weekend. For those of you who may be new to this series, the main thing to understand is the the “Vampires” are actually members of a criminal gang called “Les Vampires,” not supernatural undead beings.

Red Cryptogram1This was the last episode of the serial to be released in 1915, so we’ll have to wait a while to see how things develop. It’s also the longest so far, getting back to more the style of full-length serial episode that we learned to expect in Fantômas. It begins with our intrepid hero, the lackluster Guérande (Édouard Mathé), playing hooky and staying home from work on false pretenses. It’s not clear to me whether he does this to try to trick the Vampires, who thought that they had killed him in the previous episode, or just because he wants a day off. He discovers a Vampire watching his apartment, however, and goes out in disguise to a hot new nightclub featuring the act of one “Irma Vep” (played by Musidora, who would be the biggest star to come out of this series), where he watches her sing. She then goes to an after-hours club with an Apache Dance as the floor show and meets with the Grand Vampire (Jean Aymé), who instructs her to retrieve a red notebook that Guérande got from the Grand Inquisitor in the previous episode. Guérande returns home by way of his fireplace, and is shortly thereafter followed by Mazamette (Marcel Lévesque), who passes along a poisoned pen he has stolen from the Vampires.

Red CryptogramThe next day, Irma Vep arrives and applies for a job as a maid. She tries to poison Guérande, but he figures it out and drinks water instead. Now, a message comes for Guérande’s mother (who he lives with, remember), telling her that her brother was in an accident and she should come quickly to the country. Guérande suspects something and advises her to take the pen along. He continues working on decoding the mysterious notebook. A Vampire sneaks into the house with the help of Irma Vep, but Guérande shoots them both. While he goes to summon a police officer, the two “bodies” manage to escape – Irma had filled his gun with blanks! Of course, when the mother gets to her destination she is kidnapped by Vampires, who try to get her to write a ransom note to her son. She gets out her pen, and uses it to kill the man holding her captive. She runs outside and flags down the first car to make good her escape. the Grand Vampire and Irma Vep return to the hideout, and recognize the pen, which tells them that there is an infiltrator in the organization, but not who it is.

Irma Vep

Irma Vep

For people not accustomed to the serials of Louis Feuillade, this may all seem a little strange, not least because the episode doesn’t end in a cliffhanger, but this was standard for serials at the time. Each episode was more or less self-contained, and had a resolution, or partial resolution, at the end. We still don’t know what the significance of the red notebook is, and obviously Irma Vep and the Grand Vampire are still at large, but for the time being Guérande and his mother are in no immediate danger. There were some things that took me by surprise, though. For one thing, I nearly knocked myself out I slapped my forehead so hard when the name “Irma Vep” was decoded. I’ve known about Irma Vep for twenty years, even though I’d never seen this serial, and it never occurred to me it was an anagram for anything. Och! Meanwhile, Guérande continues to be a total panty-waist. Not only does he fail to rescue his own mother, he spends most of the movie in bed pretending to be sick! I don’t even think Feuillade wanted us to like this guy. Mazamette and Musidora are, ultimately, in too little of the movie to make up for it. And the usual logical inconsistency: if the gun was firing blanks, why didn’t the Vampires just overpower Guérande and force him to show them the notebook instead of escaping? Why bother putting blanks in the gun at all, instead of just taking out the bullets? I know, this is part of the fun, I should really just relax.

Silent Cinena BannerDirector: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Manichoux

Starring: Édouard Mathé, Musidora, Jean Aymé, Marcel Lévesque, Florense Simoni

Run Time: 40 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music), or here (with music).

The Deadly Ring (1915)

For my “feature” this week, I’m returning to the series “Les Vampires” by Louis Feuillade, a crime-drama that served as his follow up to “Fantômas.” I’m a bit embarrassed to call it a “feature,” though, given its short running time. I’ not certain whether the relative brevity of the chapters in “Les Vampires” versus “Fantômas” was a result of budget cuts due to the curtailing of the French film industry during the First World War, or whether these were artistic decisions made by Feuillade. Since this episode and the previous one were apparently released on the same day, it could be that they were meant to be shown together.

Deadly RingAt any rate, the movie does have quite a bit to it, given the time it takes to watch. It opens on an exclusive Paris gentleman’s club, wherein a Count Noirmoutier (Jean Aymé) reads in the paper about the relationship between the heroic newspaperman Guérande (Édouard Mathé) and a ballet star named Marfa Koutiloff (Stacia Napierkowska). He then purchases a ring from a nervous fellow who warns him that one scratch from it could be deadly. Then the count heads over to Marfa’s dressing room, where she is being interviewed by Guérande and dressed by her maid. Guérande discreetly leaves and the count offers her the ring “as a token of my affection…with honorable intentions…and absolute respect.” Marfa agrees, and insists he put it on her finger, which he does a bit forcefully. Once he leaves, she complains that her finger is hurt and removes it. Then her curtain call comes and she rushes out to the stage, after donning huge batwings. Her dance as the enormous bat is one of the most iconic images of the film, but it doesn’t last long before she collapses from the poison o the ring. Guérande notices the count fleeing the scene and suddenly recognizes him as Dr. Nox (why didn’t he know him in the dressing room? Never mind.)

If this gig doesn't work out, maybe they're hiring at Disney.

If this gig doesn’t work out, maybe they’re hiring at Disney.

The second act of this episode begins with Guérande pursuing Nox in a taxicab, only to be seized by a gang of Vampires in their Fantômas-like costumes. He is then taken to a secret hideout where orders are passed along from the Grand Vampire that he is to be held there until the Grand Inquisitor comes to interrogate him at midnight. At dawn, he will be executed before the Black Council. The loyal Vampire who is left to guard him quickly becomes overheated in his costume and removes his mask. It is Mazamette (Marcel Lévesque), Guérande’s co-worker from the previous episode! Now that he has a “man on the inside” as it were, things start looking up for Guérande. He has Mazamette undo his bonds, and attempts to flee. However, the door is bolted from outside. So, they wait until the Grand Inquisitor shows up and jump him, putting a hood on him and leaving him in Guérande’s place. The next morning, the Black Council arrives to witness the deed, but before they can start, there is a police raid, led by Guérande, who wants to catch the Grand Vampire. However, they all know a secret way out, and they shoot the Grand Inquisitor before they go. The police unmask the dead man and find that it is a prominent judge of the Supreme Court. Fortunately, the Vampires now think they have assassinated Guérande, so he can continue to investigate them without fear of reprisal.

Deadly Ring1This is a fun episode, but again, somewhat less exciting than the Fantômas movies. At first, when Marfa was introduced as Guérande’s fiancée, I thought maybe we were starting to overcome some of his milksop tendencies from the previous episode, but apparently she’s just a “beard.” Anyway, so far as we know at this point, she’s dead, so the point is moot. One thing I don’t think I’ve mentioned before is that the artist Edward Gorey referred to Feuillade as one of his major influences, especially in the book Ascending Peculiarity. That Vampire Dance sequence was one of the first times I really sensed this influence in watching a Feuillade film – perhaps because the detailed backdrop looked like a background to a Gorey drawing. There’s a closeup when Marfa begins to falter in her dance, but in general the camera is fairly static and most of the story is shown in long- to mid-shot. I rather liked the touch that the reason for assembling the Black Council was to implicate all of the gang leaders in the murder together, so that no one would be “clean” should anyone try to betray the rest. Criminals just don’t go in for elaborate schemes like that in the movies anymore.

Alternate Titles: “The Ring that Kills,” “Les vampires: La bague qui tue”

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Manichoux

Starring: Édouard Mathé, Jean Aymé, Stacia Napierkowska, Marcel Lévesque

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music)

The Severed Head (1915)

Severed HeadI’m going to skip ahead in my history of horror this week, because I want to cover all of the 1915 episodes of the serial “Les Vampires” before the month of October is over. This serial is often confused for a more typical horror movie by writers who haven’t seen it, because of the title. In fact, it is a kind of follow-up to “Fantômas” by Louis Feuillade – another crime and detective serial involving a master criminal. The name of the “Vampires” is simply a moniker chosen by the criminal gang that leads this movie. Still, with secret passageways, mysterious notes, a murder in a police station, and, of course, a severed head, there is plenty here for horror fans to enjoy.

Severed Head1This first episode begins by introducing the intrepid reporter Guérande (Édouard Mathé), who returns to his office after some thrilling investigation, only to find that his files on the criminal gang known as the Vampires is missing. He accuses his co-worker Mazamette (Marcel Lévesque) of pilfering them, then finds the folder on his person after his denial. Mazamette convinces him not to turn him over to the police by showing him a picture of his children, and says he will be forever in Guérande’s debt when he agrees. Now Guérande’s boss calls him in and assigns him to investigate the case of Inspector Durtal, whose body was found in the swamps without its head. After a farewell scene with his mother (who packs his clothes for him by rolling them into tubes), Guérande cables ahead to an old friend of his father’s, Dr. Nox (Jean Aymé), to request permission to stay at his chateau near the crime scene. Dr. Nox agrees, although he is in negotiations to sell the house to Mrs. Simpson, a wealthy American. The three dine together, and Guérande thrills Mrs. Simpson with stories of the exploits of the Vampires and Mrs. Simspon impresses the men with her valuable jewels, which she always carries with her as a security precaution. That night, Guérande receives a note warning him of tragedy if he doesn’t give up the case. At midnight, a thief uses a secret passage to creep into Mrs Simpson’s room wearing a distinctly Fantômas-like costume and steals the jewels. In the morning, evidence has been planted to incriminate Guérande and he rushes out when the crime is reported, leading Dr. Nox to accuse him in his absence. But, Guérande tells his story to the local Magistrate, who agrees to hold Nox and Simpson at the police station while they investigate the chateau together. Instead of the jewels, what they discover is the missing head of Durtal! Now, they go back to the station to confront Dr. Nox, but they find that he has murdered Mrs. Simpson and fled the scene, leaving a mocking note in the name of “The Grand Vampire.” The audience, though not the characters, are treated to the image of the Grand Vampire escaping across the roof and down the drainpipe of the police station unobserved.

Severed Head2I actually found this first part of the series a bit disappointing, compared to its Fantômas predecessor. I’m hoping that’s because Feuillade is still setting the scene and establishing the situation for greater thrills to come. In spite of the good parts mentioned above, an awful lot of the action in this movie is just people sitting in drawing rooms talking to one another. One interesting parallel between the two series is that both begin with a jewelry heist. There’s fairly little exterior footage, which means we are limited to rather cramped-looking interiors, and sometimes the biggest visual thrill is when the tinting on the film changes from blue to amber when someone turns on a light. I thought it was interesting that our hero is a teetotaler who lives with his mother – neither the American image of the action hero nor of the average Frenchman! So far, the Grand Vampire has been mostly a disguise-wearing Fantômas clone, but I expect things to get more interesting, given the stills I have seen from other episodes.

Like, who's this chick?

Like, who’s this chick?

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Manichoux

Cast: Édouard Mathé, Marcel Lévesque, Jean Aymé

Run Time: 33 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).