Sunday Matinee: Les Vampires

“who, what, when, where?”

Continuing from last week’s Fantomas – director Louis Feuillade followed that movie with another serial classic – Les Vampires (1915). It was a 10 part serial that followed the adventures of a gang of criminals called The Vampires. Most of the story was improvised from episode to episode leading to many plot twists. Severed heads, poison rings, secret passages, car chases, underground lairs and some good old fashioned running on rooftops were just some of the fun this serial had.

The basic story starts off with a reporter named Philippe Guérande (Édouard Mathé) looking into the exploits of the Vampire gang and their mysterious leader The Grand Vampire. A femme fatale named Irma Vep is played by Musidora. She dons a full black skin tight outfit and commits various crimes. Irma Vep is an anagram of vampire. Vep takes centre stage after she is introduced and the identity of the Grand Vampire changes several times as the story progresses.

When Inglourious Basterds came out – -I noticed that in the scene where Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) is interrogating Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) in the movie theatre’s office – there is a poster of Les Vampires is hanging on the wall. I don’t why but I love the poster. No film title on it just “who, what, when, where?” in French with a masked face surrounded by question marks.  They don’t make posters like that now a days.

The film series was a huge hit in France but it came under criticism for glorifying crime along with Fantomas. As a result Feuillade’s next film was Judex in 1916. It was about a costumed crime fighter who lived in a ruined castle with an underground cave that contained many gadgets. Judex wore a suit with a slouch hat and cloak – not unlike another pulp hero that made a shadowy appearance in 1930.

French filmmaker Olivier Assayas’s 1996 movie Irma Vep was about a French director on the downside of his career trying to direct a remake of this film. It starred Maggie Cheung as herself who was cast as Irma Vep. Maggie ends up getting dressed up in a black skin tight leather outfit and goes running around on rooftops trying to get into character.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka has spent most of his life watching movies and reading comic books. He has decided to use this vast knowledge for evil instead of good.