Les Vampires 6: The Eyes That Fascinate 1916

Director: Louis Feuillade
"Moreno's gaze had a terrible hypnotic power..."
Guerande and Mazamette follow the Vampires' trail to Fontainebleau. The assembled criminal fraternity converges on the Master of the Royal Hunt Hotel, where their quarry is a cache of stolen US dollars. In this tangled web of deceit, betrayal - and bullfighting - who will emerge the victor?

The Grand Vampire and Irma Vep are in Fontainebleau, posing as Count Kerlor and his son Guy. They discover that a fellow hotel guest, 'Horatio Werner', is really Raphael Norton, an American manservant who has stolen a large sum of money from his employer. Meanwhile,
Moreno, pursuing a vendetta against the Vampires, arrives at the hotel in disguise. Also on the Vampires' trail are Guerande and Mazamette; their suspicions aroused, they follow 'Mr Werner' out into the countryside and discover his stash of stolen dollars. 

Later, while 'Count Kerlor' entertains the other guests with tales of a bullfighting ancestor, Irma Vep sneaks into Werner/Norton's room to search for a map showing the stolen money's location. She is ambushed by Moreno, who sends his hypnotised maid Laura in her place to pass the map to the Grand Vampire.

The Grand Vampire sends the bogus Countess to retrieve the loot, but she finds only a note left by Guerande stating that he has taken it for safekeeping. Moreno intercepts the Countess's return to the hotel, surprised to find her empty-handed. Moreno, secretly in love with Irma Vep, confesses he is holding her captive in a ransom note given to the Countess. He mesmerises Vep into writing a confession of her past crimes, and when the Grand Vampire calls arrives to demand her return, Moreno orders her to kill him...

Anyone stumbling onto Episode Six of The Vampires without having seen previous chapters would have struggled to make sense of it. Almost none of the characters are who they say they are, and a further layer of ambiguity is added by the presence of Moreno, a skilled hypnotist who can mesmerise women - even the strong-willed Irma Vep - into acting completely out of character. The plot is no help: as Fabrice Zagury puts it in his essay on The Vampires: "...Feuillade's narrative seldom originates from principles of cause and effect... Rather it unwinds following labyrinthine and spiral-shaped paths."

To fully map out a complex yet coherent plot would have taken time, and this was a luxury Feuillade could not afford. The present serial had come about when Gaumont studios got wind of Pathe's plan to release of the Pearl White serial Les Mysteres de New York (1914), originally known in the U.S. as The Exploits of Elaine and co-starring future Mr Hyde Sheldon Lewis as 'The Clutching Hand'. Feuillade was given the task of getting a rival production into cinemas with the tightest of deadlines, and The Vampires was the result.

It's been noted that Feuillade, maybe with economy in mind, was never particularly fond of cross-cutting or moving his camera. He filmed most scenes using medium shots punctuated with occasional close-ups to pick out details. That said, there is considerable visual variety on show throughout; the animated poster in episode two which changes from "IRMA VEP" to "VAMPIRE" and back again; the stock footage of bombarded ships in episode eight; the peep-holes in Satanas' apartment behind a Chinese mask, and more.

For all his inventiveness, contemporary critics viewed his crime thrillers with the kind of disdain that has dogged genre film making ever since. As the anonymous critic from the Hebdo-Film journal put it in April 1916: "That a man of talent, an artist, as the director of most of the great films which have been the success and glory of Gaumont, starts again to deal with this unhealthy genre, obsolete and condemned by all peole of taste, remains for me a real problem."

End Credits:
Edouarde Mathe (Phillipe Guerande), Musidora (Irma Vep / Viscount Guy Kerlor), Marcel Levesque (Oscar Mazamette), Jean Ayme (The Grand Vampire / Count Kerlor), Fernand Hermann (Juan Moreno), Mlle. Maxa (Laura), Miss Edith (Comtesse de Kerlor).
Scenario: Louis Feuillade, Photography: Manichoux.
Gaumont, France
Running time 54 mins

To be continued in Part 7: 'Satanas'!

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