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Les vampires
(The Vampires)
Also known as Los vampiros in Spain
(1915) French
B&W : Serial / Ten episodes
Directed by Louis Feuillade

Cast: Musidora [Irma Vep], Édouard Mathé [Phillipe Guérande], Marcel Lévesque [Oscar-Cloud Mazamette], Jean Aymé [le Grand Vampire], Fernand Herrmann [Juan-José Moréno, also known as Brichonnet], Stacia Napierkowska [Marfa Koutiloff], Renée Carl [l’Andalouse], Suzanne Delvé [Fleur-de-Lys], Georgette Faraboni [danseuse vampire], Jacques Feyder, Fridolin, Rita Herlor [Mrs. Simpson], Émile Keppens [Géo Baldwin], Louise Lagrange [Jeanne Guérande], Suzanne La Bret [Hortense, servante d’Irma], Louis Leubas [Satanas, père silence], Maurice Luguet [De Villemant], Jeanne Marie-Laurent [Madame Brémontier], Jean-François Martial, Mademoiselle Maxa [Laure, servante de Moréno], Gaston Michel [Benjamin, valet de chambre de Mazamette], Frederik Moriss [Vénénos], Laurent Morléas [officier de la Grande Armée], René Poyen [Eustache Mazamette], Delphine Renot [Mère de Guérande], Françcoise Rosay [une invitée chez Mortesaigues], Germaine Rouer [Augustine], Thelès [juge d’instruction], Miss Édith [Comtesse de Kerlor], Bout-de-Zan [Eustache Mazamette]

Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont production; distributed by Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. / Scenario by Louis Feuillade. Cinematography by Manichoux. / Released 13 November 1915. / Standard 35mm spherical 1.37:1 format. / The film was released in Mexico on 24 May 1917.

Drama: Crime.

Synopsis: First episode: The Severed Head. Phillipe Guèrande (Edouard Mathé), ace reporter for The Paris Chronicle. Early on Mazamette (Marcel Lévesque), an agent of the Vampires, is caught trying to steal the Vampire files, but sways Guèrande with a photo of his family. Guèrande is tracking down clues. Staying overnight in Dr. Nox’s castle, a rich guest is robbed of her valuable jewels. Guèrande leads the police to the clues in the castle the next day but discovers a dead police inspector and a dire warning from The Grand Vampire. // Second episode: The Ring That Kills. The Grand Vampire, disguised as the Count de Noirmoutier, treats a famous dancer with the gift of a poisoned ring. In one of the film’s most-striking images, modern dancer Marta Koutiloff performs on stage as a giant vampire bat, then collapses from the poison. Guèrande, pursuing, is captured by the Vampires, but his guard is none other than Mazamette who frees him. Returning with the police, Guèrande misses capturing members of the Vampires. // Third episode: The Red Codebook. Guèrande decodes Vampires messages utilizing the red codebook taken from the Grand Inquisitor. With the Vampires watching his movements, he feigns illness and has a notice of the temporary suspension of his investigations printed in the newspaper. We are then introduced to Irma Vep (Musidora), an anagram of ‘vampire,’ who is undercover in the Howling Cat nightclub. Vep is instructed by the Grand Vampire to obtain the codebook in Guèrande’s possession. The reformed Mazamette provides Guèrande with a poison ink pen taken from the Grand Vampire himself. Irma enters the Guèrande home disguised as a replacement maid. Guèrande’s mother is kidnapped. Guèrande shoots a vampire and Irma Vep, but when he returns with the police they have disappeared across the rooftops. Meanwhile, Guèrande’s mother is forced into writing a note to her son for the return of the book, but uses the poisoned pen on her captor. The Grand Vampire and Irma Vep find their captive missing and the poison pen, and realize someone has betrayed them. // Fourth episode: The Spectre. The Grand Vampire, disguised as a real estate broker Mr. Treps, is approached by a Señor Moreno for an apartment with a safe for valuables. Treps obliges, however, this safe has Irma Vep waiting behind its false back. Vep and the Grand Vampire discover that Moreno is actually a criminal himself. Monsieur Renoux-Deval, a bank executive, leaves instructions for the physical transfer of 300,000 francs by an employee, M. Metadier, who is a motion picture fanatic. Here, Gaumont indulges in some shameless self-promotion as a couple shots take place in front of the Gaumont Palace theatre in Paris. When he travels home that evening, Metadier is waylaid by the Vampires. The banking task falls on Miss Juliette, who turns out to be . . . you guessed it. But at the last moment the Spectre arrives in the guise of M. Metadier and is recognized by Irma Vep, who swoons in recognition. The false Metadier, followed by the Grand Vampire, escapes down a manhole. The bank soon realizes it has been taken. Guèrande arrives at the bank disguised as a workman and recognizes Irma Vep. Guèrande discovers her cover apartment and sends Mazamette there as a wine salesman to gain entry. Inside, Guèrande overhears Vep and the Grand Vampire discover Metadier and the money in the false safe. Moreno is the Spectre! Guèrande surprises them but the Vampires escape. Moreno opens the safe to discover the missing money and a waiting Guèrande, who hands him over to the police. // Fifth episode: Dead Man’s Escape. Monsieur Hamel, the examining magistrate, and Guèrande question the captured Moreno, who manages to take a suicide pill. Guèrande obtains permission to accompany Moreno’s body, which is taken to a jail cell for the remainder of the evening. Of course, the pill only made Moreno appear to die and he recovers in the early morning to effect his escape. Mazamette happens to observe Moreno disappear into a hideout. Meanwhile, Guèrande is captured by the bold Vampires and placed into a costume trunk. Still, Guèrande manages to quickly escape. Going to the Pugenc costume shop the next day, Guèrande happens to arrive while Moreno is there renting police uniforms, who exits unseen. Guèrande obtains information to trace the trunk to a Baron’s residence and leaves, followed by Moreno, who confidently confronts Guèrande at a sidewalk cafe. Guèrande calls on the police, who capture him instead, being Moreno’s henchmen in disguise. To save himself from being killed, Guèrande provides information about the current identity of the Grand Vampire. Having snuck into Moreno’s hideout, Mazamette frees Guèrande, who pursues both Moreno and the Vampires to the Baron’s ball that evening. At midnight the rich guests are gassed into unconsciousness so that the Vampires may rob them of their jewelry and money. Fleeing with the loot, the Vampires are intercepted by Moreno, who pilfers their take. Led by Guèrande, the police are too late to the Baron’s residence to capture anyone. The following morning, Guèrande receives a taunting note of thanks for the information from Moreno. // Sixth episode: Hypnotic Eyes. Moreno, still seeking vengeance on the Vampires, exercises his hypnotic powers on an innocent house maid. Meanwhile at a motion picture theatre, Guèrande and Mazamette recognize the Vampires in a film they are watching and travel to Fontainbleau. Mr. and Mrs. Horatio Werner are American tourists staying in a hotel there. Guèrande and Mazamette follow Mr. Werner to a remote area where he secrets a lock box. The Grand Vampire, now disguised as Count Kerlor, discovers that Werner has actually embezzled $200,000 from his American employer and is on the lam with his mistress. Guèrande and Mazamette open the lock box to discover Werner’s cash. Meanwhile, a disguised Moreno arrives at the hotel. While the false count entralls the hotel’s rich guests with an account of his great grandfather’s exploits, Irma Vep searches Werner’s room for clues to the money’s whereabouts. Discovering a map, she departs the room but is captured by Moreno, who has her carted off by his henchmen. He substitutes his hypnotized maid for Irma Vep and instructs her to take the map to the Grand Vampire. He sends a female henchman to retrieve the loot, but she discovers Guèrande’s note saying that he has the money. She is intercepted by Moreno, who learns of Guèrande’s ploy. Moreno send the woman back to the Grand Vampire with his ransom note for Irma Vep. The police raid the hotel the next morning, but are once again too late to capture anyone except the ersatz Werner couple. Meanwhile, we are told that Moreno has fallen unexpectedly in love with the now hypnotized Irma Vep, who writes a full confession of her recent activities. When the Grand Vampire arrives as Kerlor, Moreno instructs Vep to shoot him. Meanwhile, Mazamette, who has claimed the reward for capturing Werner, now lives in high fashion with his family. // Seventh episode: Satanus. No sooner is the Grand Vampire out of the way, then Satanus arrives. And here is an even more ruthless leader of the Vampires, looking menacing in a Rudolph Klein-Rogge way. He quickly puts Moreno in his place, something the Grand Vampire could not do. Now here is an even more devilish foe for Guèrande. With Moreno opposing Satanas’ control, out comes the large secret weapons, something that would be a staple of this kind of genre film for many years to come. Satanas bombs the Moreno gang’s gathering place. Meanwhile, Guèrande is nearly killed in Mazamette’s apartment. And Irma Vep and Moreno come to surrender themselves to the will of Satanas. Together they conspire to to bilk an American millionaire, George Baldwin. Moreno sends his agent Lily Flower to ‘interview’ Baldwin with the intent to obtain his signature. Next, Irma obtains a recording of the millionaire under another ruse. Moreno then forges a check for $100,000 dollars. Mazamette recognizes Lily as she is cashing the check, and then follows her to her hand-off with Moreno. Moreno turns the cash over to Satanas who buys the loyalty of Moreno by handing the loot back to him. Guèrande and Mazamette go to Lily’s apartment to obtain information about Moreno’s and the Vampires’ plans. They force her into calling Moreno and Irma to her apartment, and the police finally catch Vep and Moreno. // Eighth episode: The Thunder Master. Now captured, Irma Vep is sentenced to life in prison in Algeria. Moreno has also been taken care of. Meanwhile, Satanas is packing for a trip to Port Vendrés, the last French port before Africa, to rescue Irma Vep. Satanas, in disguise, passes a note with a plan to not only allow Irma Vep to escape but to be presumed dead by the French authorities. Guèrande decodes more from the red code book to determine the general area that originated the shell that destroyed Moreno’s hideout. Meanwhile, Mazamette’s son Eustache (Bout-de-Zan) is sent home from boarding school for laziness and malicious pranks. When he is enlisted to help search for the secret Vampires hideout, Eustache discovers a disguised bomb shell being transported into a building. Satanas arrives at Guèrande’s home with the intent of paralyzing the reporter long enough to kill him in an explosion. At the last moment, Mazamette averts destruction and then announces that he knows where the Vampire hideout is. Sneaking into Satanas’ headquarters, Mazamette and his son devise and execute a plan that captures Satanas with unexpected ease. Meanwhile, the not-so-dead Irma Vep arrives back in Paris to hook-up with the Vampires. Satanas has left instructions in the event of his arrest. A criminally-deranged chemist known as Venomous has provided a letter written in poisoned ink. Satanas is delivered the letter in prison, which he secretly injests. // Ninth episode: The Poisoner. Now in control of the Vampires, Venomous desires only to be finished with the pesky Guèrande and Mazamette. Guèrande is now suddenly engaged to Jane Bremontier, and Venomous targets her to get to the reporter. A Vampire agent pumps the Bremontier for valuable information. The Vampires arrive at Guèrande’s engagement party as the caterers. But a maid stops the dinner party from being poisoned at the last minute and the Vampires escape over the rooftops. Seeking safe refuge for his family and fiancée, Guèrande arranges a plan for them to leave Paris. However, the Vampires already plan to strike again that evening. Irma Vep sprays the getaway car with a paralyzing chemical, but is stopped by Mazamette. He is overpowered and disposed of, and Irma Vep secrets herself in the getaway car. When the car arrives at its destination, Vep escapes detection and reports the new whereabouts of Guèrande to the Vampires. Guèrande soon stumbles onto Irma Vep and captures her. But when Venomous arrives but he and Irma Vep escape capture. Guèrande and Mazamette pursue in a thrilling sequence but Irma Vep and Venomous get away. // Tenth episode: The Terrible Wedding. We could summarize the final episode, but we wouldn’t want to give everything away. Would we?

Survival status: Prints exist [35mm positive, 16mm reduction positive].

Current rights holder: Gaumont.

Keywords: Reporters - Secret organizations - Serials

Listing updated: 14 August 2012.

References: Film viewing : Bardèche-History p. 130; Everson-Detective p. 24; Sinyard-Silent p. 59 : Website-IMDb.

Home video: DVD.

 
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