After the monumental corporeality of La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, a world perpetually on the verge of spectral dissipation. Allan Grey the pomaded fabulist (Julian West, AKA Baron Nicholas de Gunzburg) is the wandering center, butterfly net slung over tuxedo, a guest at a most tenebrous Courtempierre chateau. "Creatures from the abyss" everywhere: The robed codger with a scythe by the river’s edge is just a greeter, disembodied silhouettes enjoy a shindig while a fiend skulks through the countryside in the form of a bent crone (Henriette Gérard). Night more luminous than day, a talkie quieter than any silent, that’s simply Carl Dreyer seizing the horror genre. The lord of the manor (Maurice Schutz) expires on the floor, shot by a Cocteau pistol, upstairs there’s the widening grin of the daughter (Sybille Schmitz) with "the mark of damnation" on her neck. Le Fanu is the acknowledged basis, though there are sprinklings of Kafka and Poe as well, Dreyer’s sublimely arcane hallucination is an engulfing mist. The malevolent village doctor (Jan Hieronimko) would later be transmuted into slapstick by Polanski, also in the vampiress’ corner are skulls with sockets aglow and a gamekeeper (Georges Boidin) wielding peg-leg and mandolin. "Who can solve the riddle of life and death, or fathom the dark secrets hidden in the light of day?" When the pull of mortality is imprinted on every frame, nothing less than the most uncanny camerawork will do: A tangible slipperiness suffuses the screen, dollying and panning that distend and dissolve space, a symphony of figures gliding in and out of rooms, up and down staircases. Bosch’s Death and the Miser is all but quoted, the patriarch’s face glaring in the window is a Redon effect. Dreyer enjoys a set-piece and gives Grey’s POV inside the coffin the proper showstopper treatment, right into 2001: A Space Odyssey it goes. The shattered grave, "Me and My Shadow," Griffith’s flour mill (A Corner in Wheat). Renoir’s La Nuit du Carrefour and the Halperins’ White Zombie are concurrent, afterwards only Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me comes close. Cinematography by Rudolph Maté. With Rena Mandel, Albert Bras, and N. Babanini. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce