Vampyr was made in 1931 by Danish director Carl Dreyer, who is perhaps best known for his austere and beautiful 1928 film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Very loosely based on the story Carmilla by Sheridan La Fanu, Vampyr tells the tale of a haunted looking young man who comes to a misty inn where he meets a very odd group of people who all seem to be cursed by a vampire – an old woman aided by a creepy doctor who only makes house calls at night.
This is stunning film making, visually, made even more eerie than it might have otherwise been by a grand mistake: photographer Rudolph Mate overexposed part of the film by accident, creating a look that Dreyer loved. As a result he had the rest of the film shot in the same style, often putting a layer of gauze over the lens to achieve the desired effect. The result is a dreamlike film that seems to exist in a perpetual, foggy twilight.
There is one particularly memorable scene in which the hero of the film imagines being buried alive. The scene is shot with the camera looking up through a window in his coffin as he is carried to a grave. This is spectacularly chilling stuff, relying entirely on dream-like atmosphere rather than in-your-face scares.
Be warned – many video stores put this film in their “silent movie” section, and some references cite it as a “silent” classic. While the dialogue (in German) is minimal, limited to some eerie and cryptic lines (“why does the doctor only come at night?”) it is not a silent film.