Les Vampires 1: The Severed Head 1915

Director: Louis Feuillade


Who? What? When? Where? Intrepid reporter Phillipe Guerande follows the trail of the Vampires, arch-criminals of Paris, to the scene of a gruesome murder in the first of ten chapters in Louis Feuillade's thrilling serial...

Phillipe Guerande, investigative reporter at the Paris Chronicle, is shocked to discover the theft of his files on the Vampires, a secret society of criminals that have been terrorising Paris. His associate Mazamette is caught with the stolen files, but he persuades Guerande not to hand him over to the police.

A tip-off leads the reporter to the scene of a recent murder in St-Clement-Sur-Cher. The local police are reluctant to offer any information, so on his mother's advice he seeks out Dr Nox, a childhood friend of his father who lives nearby. However, Guerande soon has good cause to involve the police. Nox's chateau reveals some dark secrets when night falls, and even the doctor himself may not be what he seems...

Mysterious posters began to appear on the streets of Paris in November 1915. They showed a row of three masked female faces, each circled by a question mark like a hangman's noose, and beneath each one, the same four unanswered questions: "Who? What? When? Where...?". A year into the Great War, those Parisian streets were daily growing more empty, but further enigmatic details could be found in the morning papers: "Of the moonless nights they are kings, darkness is their kingdom. Carrying death and sowing terror, the dark Vampires fly, with great suede wings, ready not only to do evil... but to do even worse..."

It was the beginning of the latest serial-play by Louis Feuillade, the man who just a year before had brought the immensely popular exploits of the master criminal Fantomas to the cinema screen. In Les Vampires, the authorities and the bourgeoisie were forced to contend with not just one, but a whole gang of homicidal black-masked villains, their identities constantly changing, their methods employing ingenious gadgetry and foul murder weapons.

Feuillade's most accomplished work was a crime drama shrouded in a cloak of gothic horror. The world of the Vampires is a world of midnight intruders, of trap doors and vanishing corpses, high-speed chases and daring escapes across the rooftops of Paris. Semi-improvised and filmed at a ferocious speed, the serial was mocked by contemporary critics and almost banned outright by an incensed police force, though it soon found favour with a public eager to escape from the less palatable horrors of war, and with a whole generation of artists and poets who revelled in it's depiction of a recognisably real world infused with mystery and danger...

End Credits:
Edouarde Mathe (Phillipe Guerande), Marcel Levesque (Oscar Mazamette), Jean Ayme (The Grand Vampire / Dr Nox), Delphine Renot (Mme. Guerande), Rita Herlor (Mrs. Simpson).
Scenario: Louis Feuillade, Photography: Manichoux.
Gaumont, France
Running time 31 mins

To Be Continued in Part 2: "The Ring That Kills"!

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