Les Vampires

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France, 1915–16

Director: Louis Feuillade

1. La tête coupée; 2. La bacque qui tue; 3. Le cryptogramme rouge; 4. Le spectre; 5. L'evasion du mort; 6. Les yeux qui fascinent; 7. Satanas; 8. Le maître de la foudre; 9. L'homme des poisons; 10. Les noces sanglantes

Production: Film Gaumont (Paris); black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: each part is approximately 40 minutes. Released November 1915 through June 1916.

Screenplay: Louis Feuillade; photography: Manichoux.

Cast: Edouard Mathé (Philippe Guerande, reporter); Delphine Renot (His mother); Louise Lagrange (Jane Bremontier, his fiancée); Jeanne-Marie Laurent (Jane's mother); Marcel Levesque (Oscar Mazamette); Jean Ayme (The First Grand Vampire, alias Doctor Nox/Count of Noirmoutier/Big Jules/Monsieur Treps/Baron de Mortesaigues/Colonel Count de Derlor); Musidora(Irma Vep/Anne Marie Le Goff/Juliette Bertaux/Mlle. de Mortesaigues/The Viscount Guy de Kerlor/Marie Boissier/Aurelia Plateau); Stacia Naperkowska (Marfa Koutiloff, the dancer); Bout de Zan (Himself); Renee Carl (The Andalusian lady); Fernand Hermann (Juan-Jose Moreno the burgler, alias Brichonnet/Manuel Arriga); Louis Leubas (Satanas, the Second Grand Vampire, alias The Bishop).



Feuillade, Louis, and Georges Meirs, Les Vampires, Paris, 1916.


Vedres, Nicole, Image du cinéma français, Paris, 1945.

Sadoul, Georges, French Film, Paris, 1953; revised edition, New York, 1972.

Lacassin, Francis, Louis Feuillade, Paris, 1964.

Armes, Roy, French Film, New York, 1970.

Bastide, Régis, Louis Feuillade, Perpignan, 1987.

Lacassin, Francis, Maître des lions et des vampires, Louis Feuillade, Paris, 1995.


Leprohon, Pierre, "Louis Feuillade," in Radio-Cinéma-Télévision (Paris), 27 July 1958.

Beylie, Claude, "Louis Feuillade," in Ecrans de France (Paris), 15 May 1959.

Fieschi, Jean-Andre, "Feuillade (l'homme aimante)," in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), November 1964.

Lacassin, Francis, "Louis Feuillade," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1964–65.

"Feuillade," in Anthologie du cinéma 2, Paris, 1967.

Roud, Richard, "Memories of Resnais," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1969.

Champreux, J., "Louis Feuillade, poète de la realité," in Avant-Scènedu Cinéma (Paris), 1 July 1981.

Arnaud, P., "Les Apparences transitoires," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), 18 June 1986.

Niogret, Hubert, in Positif (Paris), February 1987.

Oms, Marcel, "Entretien avec Jacques Champreux," in Cahiers de laCinémathèque (Perpignan), no. 48, 1987.

Beylie, Claude, "Judex et Les Vampires," in Cinéma (Paris), no. 482, November 1991.

Leplongeon, N., "Les Vampres de Louis Feuillade: une strategie de cooperation spectatorielle," in Iris, no. 17, 1994.

Mansoz, Mathilde, "La face cachée des Vampires," in Cinéma (Paris), no. 547, 1 February 1995.

Johnson, William, "A Short Take on Long Films," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 31, no. 5, September-October 1995.

Thompson, Frank, in Film Comment (New York), vol. 34, no. 5, September-October 1998.

O'Brien, G., "Silent Screams," in New York Review of Books, vol. 45, no. 20, 17 December 1998.

Callahan, Vicki, "Detailing the Impossible," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 9, no. 4, April 1999.

* * *

For French cinema, the years 1915–1922 constituted a period of renewal. A considerable number of young filmmakers emerged with their first works, and the basis of a highly important avant garde movement was created. But the bulk of commercial production continued in a solid and unadventurous way, as if France were still the world's leading film nation. This time of transition is symbolized by the situation at the Gaumont studios in Paris in 1919, where 46-year-old veteran director and head of production, Louis Feuillade, dressed in his grey "chemist's overalls," directed alongside a 29-year-old beginner, the ex-littérateur Marcel L'Herbier, resplendent in his monocle and white gloves. Within this temporary co-habitation of opposites there was, of course, only one direction in which the cinema was moving. But if the early 1920s are aptly represented by L'Herbier's L'homme du large or Able Gance's La roue, Feuillade's Les vampires can stand for much that was the best in French cinema from 1915 to 1916.

Feuillade had resumed his role as artistic director at Gaumont after his release from army service in 1915. In addition to making the obligatory patriotic films and the occasional meditation on the horrors of war, Feuillade plunged his energies into the crime series, echoing the success of his own Fantômas and facing up to the new United States competition, spear-headed by The Perils of Pauline and The Exploits of Elaine, which was on the brink of dominating the French market. The years 1915 to 1920 saw the appearance of five successive series, of which the first and greatest was Les vampires, which appeared at irregular intervals in ten parts, each constituting a self-contained story, between 13th November 1915 and 30th June 1916.

Les vampires is strongly conditioned by the circumstances of its shooting. Forced to work quickly and without a smoothly operating studio machine behind him, and confronted with such strong American competition, Feuillade had no time to polish his scenarios or even establish a conventional script. The stories pitted an intrepid reporter and his comic side-kick against ever more bizarre and audacious exploits perpetrated by a gang of criminals led by the ruthless killer who was a master of disguise. In contrast to the American serials, Les vampires had a dark-haired villainess, Irma Vep (an anagram of "vampire") played with great relish by Musidora, in place of the innocent blonde heroine. Many of the stories, increasingly improvised on the streets around the studio, give the impression of having been started without any clear idea of how they will end. In addition, the pressures brought on by the changing cast of players meant that occasionally even the seemingly indestructible villain had to be suddenly and inexplicably killed off.

It is the improvisation and incoherence which give Les vampires its power. Continually we are confronted with moments of total incongruity—a huge cannon is wheeled from nowhere, a whole party of socialites is gassed, an actress killed on stage, and a character is kidnapped by being lured to the window and lassoed from below. Unexpected deaths and resurrections, sudden car chases or rooftop pursuits, secret panels and spooky catacombs follow in a vivid pattern which has clearly been orchestrated by a director who, in continuing in the traditional style, still organizes his action in depth, with the players facing the audience in theatrical style. It is the anarchistic view of society, the supreme disregard of logic—so appropriate when the old social order of Europe was crumbling under the impact of World War I—which led André Breton and Louis Aragon to see in Les vampires "the reality of this century. Beyond fashion. Beyond taste."

—Roy Armes