Les Vampires (1915)

aka: The Vampires
Crime / Drama / Thriller


Les Vampires photo
Paris is in the grip of an unseen, nameless, terror, against which the police are powerless to act. A criminal organisation known as the Vampires create fear and mayhem, killing, looting, abducting - no crime is too daring, or too despicable. Little is known about the gang of villains except that they are led by the Grand Vampire and his seductive partner, Irma Vep. A journalist, Philippe Guerande, investigating the murder of a government official soon runs up against the Vampires, and so begins his long crusade to rid Paris of this evil scourge...
© filmsdefrance.com 2012

Film Review

Film poster
After the huge success of the Fantômas serial between 1913 and 1914, Gaumont were more than eager to produce another serial, mainly to fend off competition from the rival French film company Pathé (which had just acquired the rights to an American serial, Les Mystères de New York). Louis Feuillade delivered a crime serial in a similar vein, this time a ten part serial (each episode being approximately 40 minutes in length) featuring a gang of seemingly invincible master criminals known as 'the Vampires'.

The series was made during the early years of World War I, and this makes an impact not just in the chilling content and doom-laden mood of the piece, but also in the eerie look of the abandoned locations chosen by Feuillade. If anything, the cinematography is darker and more artistically accomplished than in the Fantômas series, and the film still has the power to shock and chill the spectator. It is reported that much of the series was improvised on the day, which could explain some of the bizarre and totally unexpected plot developments.

The series made a star out of the actress Musidora, who has the honour of being the first vamp and femme fatale in cinema history. In her tightly fitting black costume, and with her beautifully alluring looks, her part as the notorious Irma Vep (an anagram of 'vampire') has an indelibly iconic feel about it, and must have both shocked and delighted cinema audiences at the time. Musidora was such a hit that she subsequently starred in Feuillade's later film, Judex (1916).

The Vampires series was enormously popular in war-time France, far more so than the comparatively dismal Pathé offering, Les Mystères de New York, even if it received some pretty damning criticism at the time. Both the police and respectable critics condemned the series for its apparent glorification of crime and dubious morality - not that this did anything to stem the series' growing success.

Les Vampires is widely regarded as a masterpiece of the crime/thriller genre (made long before the genre had been established). The series has entered into French popular culture, providing a great inspiration to successive generations of writers and film-makers. Famously it had an impact on the surrealists, notably André Breton and Luis Buñuel, and also the New Wave film directors Alain Renais and Georges Franju. With its recent release on DVD, it has found a new generation of willing admirers.

The ten episodes of the Vampires series are titled as follows:

1. La Tête coupée 
2. La Bague qui tue
3. Le Cryptogramme rouge
4. Le Spectre 
5. L'Évasion du mort 
6. Les Yeux qui fascinent 
7. Satanas 
8. Le Maître de la foudre 
9. L'Homme des poisons 
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.

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The director Louis Feuillade also worked with the actor Édouard Mathé on the films Judex (1916), Tih Minh (1918), Barrabas (1919) and Parisette (1921).

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