The Shadow of Carmilla: From Carmilla to Carl Dreyer

On Diabolique, I’m taking a multi-part journey through the history of vampire fiction and films based on the classic tale Carmilla. Part one looks at the dreamy sem-silent fantasy horror film Vampyr and the career f its director, Carl Theodor Dreyer.

There is a moment in Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr, an unimportant throw-away couple of seconds, where the nominal hero of the story catches sight of a couple of shadows, shadows with no physical source, creeping across a field. The film is grainy, hazy, gauzy. It captures perfectly the prevailing atmosphere of Vampyr. Though ostensibly a vampire film, the hypnotic power of the movie flows not from the more visceral terror of fanged bloodsuckers, but rather it comes from a vaguer, ethereal place; something to do with ancient beings glimpsed from the corner of the eye, ancient mysterious powers, murky forests and glens that are at once idyllic and unnerving. There is something very pagan about the film.