Henri Langlois, co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française, once said of Louis Feuillade’s 1915 silent crime serial, “I am convinced that surrealism preexisted in cinema. Feuillade’s Les vampires was already an expression of the 20th century and of the universal subconscious.” The ten-part, subversive serial runs a whopping eight hours, but it’s easy to lose track of the time when you’re following the exploits of a vampy Parisian gang — including proto-goth starlet Musidora as the infamous Irma Vep.
It’s great to see companies like Kino International bringing old-timey serials like Les vampires to Blu-ray, keeping the low-budget, action-packed chapter plays alive. These early movies are where many film tropes and characters evolved — including several of the superheroes audiences go crazy for, today — and where moviegoers grew to love (and sometimes hate) them. Click through to watch several entertaining serials that are online right now (follow the video links for other parts in the series), and school yourself on an essential chapter in cinema history.
Before Mike Patton adopted the name Fantômas for his experimental music side project, Louis Feuillade crafted a five-episode French crime serial of the same name in 1913. The film kicked off his trio of dark cliffhangers, followed by the aforementioned Les vampires and then 1916’s Judex. René Navarre starred as the villainous master of disguise and ruthless criminal genius. Feuillade spins an outlandish mystery tale, while imbuing his pulp storyline with surreal, fantastical elements. Look for the bleeding wall.