Grotesque, frightful classic

Critic's choice: Television

October 24, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach

The bad guys in "Les Vampires," French director Louis Feuillade's 1915 movie serial, don't suck blood, they steal jewels. And Bela Lugosi is nowhere in sight (although one of the actors looks suspiciously like him). But this 10-part, eight-hour silent journey through the streets and along the rooftops of Paris, as a nasty band of thieves (led by the sinister Irma Vep, played by Musidora of the Folies Bergere) prey on the rich and powerful, is more than eerie enough to warrant tonight's Halloween-season airing on TCM, beginning at 8 p.m.

Grotesqueries abound (at one point, a box is opened to reveal ... a severed head!), bad guys fly about, and wait until you get a load of the form-fitting bat costume. The entire serial is a veritable fun house, brimming with trap doors, secret tunnels, disguises and even the occasional resurrection; no wonder Feuillade's work influenced such future masters of mystery and suspense as Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock.

Long thought lost, a surviving print was found in the late 1950s, although without the title cards. Fortunately, they eventually turned up, too. Good thing; imagine watching all these macabre goings-on with nary a word of explanation.

Pub Date: 10/24/99

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