Clearly not rated, but think about it this way. This is a serial in the classic sense. (Not in the serial killer sense. Where's your head at?) It feels like it was made for children. It has a children's understanding of how crime works. Despite the fact that this is supposed to be a story about a journalist trying to take down the criminal underworld, it's understanding of what makes a bad guy is adorable. Yeah, I guess people die. But, like, barely. This serial is super tame. There's nothing to worry about here. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Louis Feuillade
THERE AREN'T ANY VAMPIRES IN IT! I'm not saying that's a spoiler. That's a fact. It's a hard core fact that you need to know before you undertake this epic undertaking. I knew that this was a seven hour French epic. (This was meant to be a balance compared to the many 90 minute movies I've been knocking out recently.) I wasn't excited to watch a seven hour French movie. But I thought...at least it is about vampires. Old timey stuff about vampires is actually pretty spooky. Nosferatu? Vampyr? I thought that I struck paydirt. Then I found out that the gang in the movie is just named "The Vampires." That's a cop out. You aren't allowed to just pick the coolest name for your movie and then ride high on the hog for people who were looking for vampire movies. Not a darned vampire in sight. So I can establish pretty quickly, I was not a fan of this movie.
That sucks because every time I try to dunk on a classic, I lose credibility. I guess if I liked everything that was considered a classic, that would be equally terrible. But this might have been the largest burden yet. Seven hours is a lot. I keep trying to maintain an air of class and dignity, but I was bored as crap for a lot of this movie. The weird thing is that silent films tend to get a bit of a pass with me. These are the people experimenting and figuring out the bare bones. The formula wasn't there, so I can understand when there are pacing issues because no one had figured it out yet. But this was just beyond the pale. The movie starts off with my favorite opening line of any film. It was something along the lines with the protagonist walking in, opening his desk and exclaiming, "Someone had stolen all of my research about The Vampires." It was such a great opening line for a seven hour film that I posted it on Facebook. This was when I thought that this was a seven hour movie about vampires. But that is such a mislead. I thought that the movie wasn't wasting any time getting into the story and then I realized that the story just meandered all over. I think this is why I am critical of this film. Movie making was in its infancy with Les Vampires. When it comes to the actual production of this movie, I suppose it is fine. But basic storytelling was down to an art by this point in history. I can forgive elements of filmmaking, but this story is practically nothing. Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of the action serial. Mainly, Les Vampires comes in ten parts and they are all about the same story over and over again. The protagonist, journalist Phillipe Guerande, is searching for The Vampires. The Vampires are after him as well. Someone gets kidnapped. One of the Vampires replaces an important person assuming that no one would recognize them. (I was really critical of this trope throughout the serial, but then I realized that I kept on confusing characters as well. I guess I have to hold the characters to my standards if I couldn't tell one character from another.) But it is just this over and over again. An even more problematic aspect comes from the fact that rarely do the protagonists ever succeed through their great ingenuity. Rather, they stumble upon either the plot or the solution of the plot quite through happenstance.
There is a real flaw when it comes to the Vampires. That flaw is that that The Vampires kind of suck as a gang. Like, all of France is under their evil. But they also constantly make huge mistakes and beg to be found. For example, they are just outright enemies with another criminal lord. They all know where to find each other. They also leave messages filled with clues on where to find them. Remember that scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie decodes that message from Ovaltine? That's about the level of challenge that the Vampires put into encrypting their secret plans. Guerande is moderately able to decipher things in the sense that everyone else is truly incompetent at it. I can't say that I'm a particularly amazing fiction writer considering that I just have pages and pages of incomplete manuscripts lying around. But I think I have a knack for words when I really try and I get basic plot structure and character development. One type of character that I never really trying writing is a genius character. All my characters are Everymans (Everymen? You see why I have all these incomplete texts waiting to have closure.) A genius character is nearly impossible to write because the author has to almost be a genius to write that character. The alternative is that the author bluffs his reader / viewer into simply accepting that the protagonist is a genius. This is what Les Vampires does. Feuillade writes these puzzles that he knows the answers to pretty easily. But the way that Guerande solves all of these puzzles is way more simple than the movie tries to make it. That just feels cheap. The alternative is the inclusion of Mazamette. Don't get me wrong. Mazamette is probably the best character in the movie. He's silly and the movie hopelessly needs him to get through the story. But Mazamette keeps accidentally solving crimes and becoming a hero. He's brave and he has positive qualities, but he's not really doing a ton of actual detective work. The kind of detective work that Mazamette deals with is pointing out the Vampires' obvious mistake. For example, they are chasing a car. The car gets away, but not before the heroes of the story put a bullet into the car. The car is dripping oil. Mazamette is the guy who points out that they should follow the trail of oil back to the hideout. That's the level of detective work that is going on in most of the stories. And since I'm pretty unforgiving of the story to begin with, I'm now going to comment on the pacing. Man alive, you have to accept that this movie had to be for little kids that needed everything spelled out for them. Each serial episode took about 45 minutes to an hour to get through. There might be two or three things to figure out per episode. That means that the film spells out exactly what is happening in each scene and really telegraphs how the story is going to unravel. There were just moments where I would scream at the screen, "We get it! He's going to follow the oil back to the Vampires' hideout! Get on with it." I know that's unfair, but I got pretty riled up over this one.
But I refuse to dump on this movie altogether. This is 1915 (and 1916? I'm confused why IMDB gave me just the 1915 date on this one) and there are some things going on here. D.W. Griffith with Birth of a Nation does some awful things with racism and some kind of cool things with storytelling. (I am not looking forward to writing that review.) But Les Vampires does some fun things with storytelling elements. The cast on this movie is huge. When there is a ballroom scene, there are a heck of a lot of extras. Also, a common thing that this movie really loved to do is to yank people out of windows with ropes around their necks. Now, the reality of these scenes is really fast and loose. It's very cool though. The Vampires would get a noose around someone's neck from the ground floor of a place by lassoing it up to the third or fourth floor and then they would just rip them down. These people wouldn't die. That's just how the Vampires just captured folks. It was a simpler time. But these action sequences were kind of baller. Like, it didn't look real. But it did look more real than a lot of the crap that would be happening later on in film. I'm looking at you, any movie that threw someone off a building or a cliff before the era of CG. But I have to go back to dumping because these kinds of shots really existed in isolation. I have to say, there are some really iconic images in this serial. In episode two, there's this cool ballet that is ridiculous in terms of costuming, but haunting in its execution. But to allow a scene like that to happen, there had to just be oodles of loitering to get to these cool scenes. I have to be wrong about this, but was Feuillade stalling to fill the 45 minutes at times? There are so many moments where people just stand around and visit locations for no reason. Guerande keeps giving his card to people and we, the viewing public, would have to see that card yet again. Was it part of the spectacle that people paid to see a 45 minute entry in the Les Vampires saga. ("The" and "Les" next to each other seems a bit redundant.) The worst part of the whole thing is that the movie had so much padding that there would be so much padding to some of the episodes that I left some of the episodes having no idea what happened in that 45 minutes to an hour. I complain that some scenes were overspelled out, but the movie kind of has the needle in a haystack element to determine what was important to the plot.
Can I say that I actually really liked Irma Vep? That's not a bold stance. Her face is the most iconic element to this movie. I was going to put a picture of her at the top of this review, but every image was way too lo-res. There's this cool moment twice in the picture where the letters animate and dance to reveal that they are serving as anagrams. One of the times is with Irma Vep and that's when you knew that she was important to the Vampires. The letters danced across the screens and then revealed that "Irma Vep" was an anagram for "Vampire." Okay, that perfectly defines this movie. It's absolutely absurd and I know that it is meant to be mindless entertainment. But it was really boring, guys. I wanted to be the kind of guy who loved a seven hour silent French film, but I didn't have any vampires. I loved Phantom India. I. LOVED. It. Les Vampires? Mostly garbage.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.