Les Vampires dates from 1915, and is a French serial, so all up, it’s something like 6 or 7 hours long. It consists of 10 episodes, ranging in length from 15 to 55 minutes in length.
They all revolve around a legendary gang of Parisian criminals known as The Vampires, and the dedicated duo of crime-fighters trying to take them down.
It’s not a continued story with cliffhangers as such, more just a series of episodes (much like a TV series) with a new predicament in each one.
I think the reason this one is on the list is because Louis Feuillade was one of the first filmmakers to use a lot of the cliches that went on to become, well, cliches of the crime thriller drama. There are role reversals, where someone good turns out to be bad. There’s people hiding behind secret doors. There’s chases across rooftops, and ropes down buildings. There’s even a few slightly more off-the-wall things like a portable cannon that gets assembled in a hotel room, then fired across the street to blow up a cafe.
On paper, this series has some clever ideas. But to watch it is painful. Don’t get me wrong, I love silent film. In fact, that’s partly the problem. The last one I watched was The Birth of a Nation which, despite its racism, is still pretty solidly entertaining. It has pace, it has drama, and it sucks you in.
But Les Vampires just becomes tedious. Partly this is due to the fact that most shots consist of a static camera in a room shooting the characters with no editing. This makes for fairly slow, clunky moments. (And I can’t even lipread it all, because it’s in French!) I kept hoping that the last episode would tie it all together and make it all worth while. Certainly, the stakes are raised in the last episode, but nothing to get too excited about.
Finally, the music on the DVD is atrocious. Silent films do often suffer because they get some dude with a synthesiser in to make the soundtrack, and this film is no exception. Hear me now – SYNTHESISERS KILL SILENT FILMS. I ended up playing spooky soundtracks over some of the episodes just to try and raise the tension levels. (It didn’t help much.)
So, yeah, film students only for this one. (And if you’re a film student, I’m putting it up on eBay soon, so keep an eye out.) For the rest of you, don’t watch it – it’ll put you off silent film. Which would be a shame, because the next film up on the list is the astonishing everyone-should-watch-it Intolerance.
1.5 out of 5.