All ten episodes of this 1915 groundbreaking silent serial by acclaimed French Director Louis Feuillade are available on Archive.org.
One of the earliest serials and one of the best, this 10 episode 7 hour serial is available in a wonderful constantly changing tinted print, going from sepia to greens to blues, with a wonderful orchestrated score.
The story begins with a reporter on the trail of a murderous crime organization, their latest crime being killing a police inspector and stealing his head. Pretty insidious stuff by any standards.
The episodes are told, like any good silent film in mostly body language, so paying attention to details is of paramount importance. But if you do give it your attention, you’ll be rewarded with a fast moving, baroque, imaginative and compelling serial.
Initially banned by the French police (let’s face it when you start a serial by putting a police inspector’s head in a box, you’re liable to ruffle a feather or two) it was a huge success when finally seen, and has remained a hugely influential film on everyone from Fritz Lang to Alfred Hitchcock.
And just a few years shy of its 100th anniversary, it’s a testament to the film and the filmmaker that it continues to be riveting, fresh and surprising entertainment.
There’s a scene in episode 3 (Minor Spoiler so skip to the next paragraph to avoid) that I wasn’t expecting, where the obsessed hero mercilessly guns down suspected Vampire members Irma Vep and Dr. Nox, and even though that doesn’t work out like he thought, it’s the ruthless, no hesitation way he goes about it that took me by surprise.
And the serial sports humor as well, episode 4 sports an old codger hitting on a young lass
by trying to take her to the movies, saying “I’m a Film Fanatic!”. And considering it’s 1915, it would be like someone saying today “I’m a virtual reality video game fanatic!”. It’s just kinda cool, how hip the movie was for its day.
It’s good stuff, and but one surprise of many the serial has to offer. All DVD versions of this serial are out of print and fetching quite a bit on the secondary market. Though I do forsee it coming back in print in time for its centennial in 2015, You can price DVD versions here:
Les Vampires: 3 Disk Version!— This is a PAL version, and is pure B&W with no color tinting, and from what I can tell from the stills a sharper, clearer, more detailed picture than the US version.
That said I think I would miss the color tinting of the US version as that serves, I feel, to really keep you focused.
I love B&W but I can see it over the course of 7 hours getting monotonous, and the tinted version, with its rotating color scheme, I think helps a lot with that. Also I quite like the US score, and by all resports this PAL score is not as good. But I can’t confirm that. All in all I think you’d have a hard time going wrong with either disk. So feel free to check availability.
However till then, or to try before you buy, you can enjoy this great copy courtesy of Archive.org. Start with episode #1 here!
Highly, Highly recommended.