An intrepid reporter and his loyal friend battle a bizarre secret society of criminals known as The Vampires.An intrepid reporter and his loyal friend battle a bizarre secret society of criminals known as The Vampires.An intrepid reporter and his loyal friend battle a bizarre secret society of criminals known as The Vampires.
It should be noted that serials were nothing new at this point in time. Formative efforts such as THE PERILS OF PAULINE had already established the appeal of these generally inexpensive actioners, with their bizarre twists and inventive death traps.
The emphasis was generally on a resourceful protagonist pitted against an equally inventive and determined fiend -- frequently an unsuspected heir or lawyer out to obtain an undeserved inheritance.
LES VAMPIRES did this formula one better, making the menace a vast and largely unsuspected criminal empire which is devouring Paris from inside. With members taken from all classes, the dark society is able to plunder, blackmail and murder without dear of action from the authorities. This continues until their removal of a government investigator brings ambitious reporter Philippe Guerande (Edouard Mathe) into things.
Sent to the country to search for details on the official's murder, Philippe plans to combine business and pleasure by meeting Dr. Lox, an old family friend who has a chateau in the area.
Arriving at Lox's estate at the same time as an American heiress who means to purchase the property, the reporter is promptly framed for theft by the hooded agents of the gang, who are secreted in the ancient building.
Locating the dead investigator's head, Philippe manages to turn suspicion on Lox. Murdering the heiress and making his escape across the rooftops, the "doctor" is revealed as the Grand Vampire the (evident) leader of the criminal society.
Philippe falls into the Vampires' hands but is rescued by Oscar Cloud Mazamette (Marcel Levesque) -- a clerk and minor member of the gang whom he had helped earlier. Philippe and Mazamette combine to try to expose the society's operations and bring the gang to a deserved end.
A series of adventures follow, with the Grand Vampire (Fernand Herrmann) and exotic dancer/criminal Irma Vep (Musidora) providing much of the opposition. In a surprise development, it is revealed that the Grand Vampire is not the gang's ultimate leader. When it is convenient, his superior eliminates him. He, in turn, commits suicide when he is imprisoned by the police.
Satanas, the criminal mastermind behind the group's poisons and explosives steps in and assumes co-command with Irma Vep. This occurs too late, however, as Philippe is closing in on the gang's chief meeting place.
After a series of close calls, the reporter and the reformed Mazamette succeed in destroying the Vampires' leadership and bringing the rank and file members to justice.
Not enough emphasis can be placed on the serial's grim and stark look, which almost functions as a characters of its own. This is a Paris where the gang's activities have seemingly terrified the people to the degree that they refuse to venture out unless it is absolutely unavoidable.
Production took place during WW I, when the streets were largely abandoned, and this strange desolation combines with the scurrying of the few characters to present a powerful emphasis that goes beyond the actual turns and twists of the plotline. The result is compelling, entertaining, and more than a bit weird in spots. Tinted scenes add to the welcome air of unreality.
Definitely a 9 out of 10 possible points.
- Nov 10, 2000