Les Vampires 7: Satanas 1916

Director: Louis Feuillade
"Since you refuse to surrender, you will see proof of my power at two o'clock. It is useless to try and escape."
The new Grand Vampire asserts his power over Moreno and Irma Vep with a poisoned glove, a weapon of mass destruction and a scheme to steal the identity -- and the cash -- of an American millionaire...

Moreno and Irma Vep are busy disposing of the murdered Grand Vampire's corpse when the man who calls himself Satanas pays a visit, explaining that he is the true Grand Vampire. As a warning, he temporarily paralyses Moreno with a poison dart concealed in his glove.

Later, Moreno and Irma visit the Happy Shack cabaret, where they receive a message from Satanas threatening revenge. Satanas fires a shell across Paris from an electronically-operated cannon, destroying the building. Moreno and Irma Vep escape unharmed.

A humbled Moreno seeks favour with Satanas by hatching a plot to rob George Baldwin, a visiting American millionaire. Moreno's accomplice Fleur-de-Lys acquires Baldwin's signature, and Irma Vep takes a phonograph recording of his voice, giving Fleur-de-Lys 'authorisation' to take a hundred thousand dollars from Baldwin's bank account. Mazamette is also at the bank, and recognises Fleur-de-Lys as one of the women who had earlier tried to rob him. He follows her back to her apartment, and a trap is sprung...

In episode seven, The Vampires strides into territory soon to be explored by Fritz Lang in The Spiders (1919-20) and Dr Mabuse (1922). The gadgetry employed by new Grand Vampire Satanas identifies him as a Mabuse-like super-criminal, more than a match for the hypnotist Moreno. The Vampires are happy to supplement tried and trusted methods like poisoning, kidnapping and shooting with the marvels of modern technology, as in the 'identity theft' carried out on George Baldwin.

The surrealists, notorious for holding similarly anarchic and anti-traditionalist views, revered Feuillade's serials, and kept his name alive throughout the twenties and thirties. Rene Magritte, a lover of trashy crime fiction, painted The Threatening Murderer in 1926, one of several direct copies of visual motifs from the Fantomas films. It took its lead perhaps from cubist Juan Gris's Fantomas (Pipe and Newspaper) of 1915. Founder of the Surrealist movement Andre Breton sang the praises of The Vampires in a 1929 article in Les Varietes, declaring it "Beyond Fashion! Beyond Taste!".

No less a personage than Luis Bunuel was also an admirer. Fabrice Zagury, quoting historian Georges Sadoul, explains how Bunuel, like the rest of the Surrealists, were contemptuous of the self-conscious artiness of the avant-garde cinema. Instead they praised the popular serials, singling out The Vampires for its "direct translation, without affected manners, of an unusual reality".

The serial's semi-improvised nature (only the last couple of episodes had any kind of script) had strong appeal among artists who valued automatic writing and spontaneous creation over mannered technique. More appealing still for those with strident anti-establishment views was the vicarious thrill of chaos and destruction on a grand scale.

End Credits:
Edouarde Mathe (Phillipe Guerande), Musidora (Irma Vep / Marie Boissier / Noemie Patoche), Marcel Levesque (Oscar Mazamette), Louis Leubas (Satanas / Claude Dupont-Verchier), Fernand Hermann (Juan Moreno), Suzanne Delve (Fleur-de-Lys) Emile Keppens (George Baldwin)
Scenario: Louis Feuillade, Photography: Manichoux.
Gaumont, France
Running time 42 mins.

To be continued in part 8: 'The Master of Thunder'!

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