Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A few notes about the first part of Les Vampires (1915)

I'm making my way through Louis Feuillade's Les Vampires, one of the first movie serials. I'm not that familiar with Feuillade's work, but I love serials and silent film and the iconic image above that's most often connected with Les Vampires, so I needed to at least check it out. I didn't have high hopes going into this one though for a couple of reasons, biggest of which is that I couldn't make it all the way through Feuillade's other silent, serialized masterwork, Fantomas. I liked Fantomas for a few episodes, but they got repetitive, even when I staggered my viewing out to an episode a night. I grew tired of it and I expected that I would with Les Vampires as well.

That repetition is connected to my second reason for being pessimistic, which is that Les Vampires isn't about vampires at all, but - like Fantomas - is about an intrepid investigator and his humorous sidekick who are looking into the affairs of master criminals. I knew before I started it that Les Vampires isn't a monster series, but the more I watch of it the more it reminds me of Fantomas, at least superficially. It has a couple of things going for it though that have a chance of pulling me through the whole series.

First, the criminals have a lot more style than the titular villain of Fantomas. Not that Fantomas is without class. He's an intelligent, resourceful bad guy and fairly charming, though ruthless enough that I never wanted to see him get away. The criminal organization from whom Les Vampires gets its name though are all about flash with their ninja outfits and secret meetings. I also like how petty they are: beheading a policeman for getting too close and targeting a ballet dancer for daring to dress like a vampire bat onstage (that's her in the screenshot above).

They also have an agent who's boldly named Irma Vep and I'm kind of in love with her. She reminds me a lot of a murderous Aubrey Plaza and I'll be interested in the series as long as she's in it.

Women do especially well in Les Vampires, which is another thing that could keep me going. The main character - an investigative reporter - lives with his mother, who looks pretty helpless on the surface. But when she's kidnapped by the Vampires as leverage against her son, she doesn't wait around to be rescued, but figures out how to free herself.

I'm only three episodes in, but if the rest of Les Vampires is as surprising as this first part, I'll happily stay on for the whole ride.

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