Combustible Celluloid
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With: Musidora, ƒdouard MathŽ, Marcel LŽvesque, Jean AymŽ, Fernand Herrmann, Stacia Napierkowska
Written by: Louis Feuillade
Directed by: Louis Feuillade
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 417
Date: 11/13/1915

Les Vampires (1915)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Perfect Crimes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Reporter Philippe Guerande (Edouard Mathe) vows to track down and uncover the secret crime ring known as the 'Vampires,' (not the Bram Stoker version -- just plain old, ordinary super-criminals). The dangerous, alluring Irma Vep (Musidora) -- wearing an all-black body suit -- is the gang's spiritual leader, and eventually its actual leader. Bald, goofball Marcel Levesque provides comic relief, as well as a kind of heroic warmth, as the reporter's sidekick.

Director Louis Feuillade (Fantômas, Judex) uses real-life, back alley Paris locations (in direct opposition to the sets used by D.W. Griffith in America during the same period), and masterfully builds suspense over the film's massive, nearly 7-hour running time (it originally played as a serial, in ten chapters). In terms of technical advancements, filmmaking may have come a long way since 1915, but suspense and excitement have rarely surpassed Les Vampires.

Les Vampires was released on DVD way back in 2000, and an import version has been available, but Kino Lorber's new, remastered edition makes them both look shabby. It's available on either a two-disc DVD set or a two-disc Blu-ray set, complete with a new score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Though it's very long -- viewers can just think of it as a TV series -- this title is one of the true glories of the silent era.

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