Les Vampires 9: The Poisoner 1916

Director: Louis Feuillade
"Madam, dinner is served..."
In episode nine of Louis Feuillade's classic serial, Venomous, the new Grand Vampire, arranges a deadly dinner party. Will reporter Phillipe Guerande and his fiancee survive to end the Vampires' reign of terror?

Irma Vep, under the alias Aurelie Plateau, rents a vacant apartment above that of Jeanne Bremontier, the fiancee of their nemesis Phillipe Guerande. Vep's maid Hortense learns of Jeanne and Guerande's engagement party, and soon the Vampires are posing as caterers from Bechamel House, intending to poison the assembled guests. When Leon the concierge dies from drinking the tainted champagne, the maid raises the alarm and the Vampires are once again forced to flee across the rooftops.

Fearing further attacks on his family, Guerande arranges for them to leave in secret at midnight for a villa in Chailly. Irma Vep discovers their plan and waits by their car in ambush. Mazamette, who has been hiding in the trunk, attempts to disarm Vep, but she gasses him unconscious and hides in his place. When he comes to at the police station, Mazamette telephones to warn Guerande, but Vep escapes the villa in the Bremontiers' car before Guerande can catch her.

Guerande arranges to meet Mazamette at a restaurant near the chateau, where he is startled to see Irma Vep waiting to rendezvous with Venemous. Guerande and Mazamette overpower Vep and use her to bait a trap. Venomous however proves difficult to catch, and the two heroes are soon engaging the Vampires in a death-defying chase...

This penultimate episode of The Vampires is bookended by two set-pieces that neatly summarise the contrasting stylistic strands woven through the serial. There's the sinister gothic melodrama of the dinner party, where the Vampires almost succeed in bumping off most of the main cast in one fell swoop. Then there's the action-adventure finale, a Gaumont rival to the imported Exploits of Elaine; Venomous and the ever-elusive Irma Vep are pursued in a car chase until, in the grand tradition of silent drama, Venomous leaps from a bridge on to the roof of a speeding train.

The director too was ready to move on. While The Vampires was in production, Feuillade was beginning to put together the third of his best-known thriller serials. Judex was begun before The Vampires, but then postponed until after the latter was completed. The first instalment was eventually given a limited release in December of 1916.

Feuillade regular Rene Creste played the Shadow-like Judex, supported by Musidora as the gang leader Diana Monti along with several other members of The Vampires' cast. Once again, there are cunning disguises, outlandish gadgetry and daring escapes. Although he produced other serials for Gaumont, Judex is so similar is it in style and content to Fantomas and The Vampires, they could be almost considered a trilogy.

One significant difference is that the title character, while still a mysterious black-clad vigilante, is this time working on the side of the law. Most likely this was Feuillade's response to those critics who accused him of glorifying crime. The grim goings-on in Judex were tempered by pacifist sentiments and the series ended with a peaceful reconciliation of all sides of the conflict.

End Credits:
Edouarde Mathe (Phillipe Guerande), Musidora (Irma Vep / Aurelie Plateau), Marcel Levesque (Oscar Mazamette), Louise Lagrange (Jeanne Bremontier), Jeanne Marie-Laurent (Mme Bremontier) Delphine Renot (Mme Guerande), Frederick Moriss (Venomous), Suzanne Le Bret (Hortense).
Scenario: Louis Feuillade, Photography: Manichoux.
Gaumont, France
Running time 48 mins.

Did the saga of the Vampires have the same harmonious finale? Find out in Part 10: 'The Bloody Wedding'!

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