Louis Feuillade, “Les Vampires (Part 9: L’homme des Poisons)” (1916)
With the death of Satanas, a new Grand Vampire, Venomous, a chemist with expertise in concocting poisons, is chosen to lead the Vampires gang and he immediately sets about plotting to kill that near-indestructible investigative reporter Phillipe Guérande. Hearing that Guérande is planning to celebrate his engagement, the dastardly gang enlist Irma Vep and an accomplice to buy the apartment near the Guérandes’ apartment. Throught them, the gang finds out and infiltrates the caterers contracted to supply the engagement feast and two gang members posing as waiters poison the champagne. In the nick of time, the Guérandes and their guests avoid killing themselves on the hooch and the Vampires’ men narrowly escape the irate party-goers. The Vampires won’t give up ridding themselves of the pesky reporter and Irma Vep follows Guérande and his fiancée as they go into hiding. Vep discovers that Guérande’s fiancée is staying at the Pyramid Hotel and contacts Venomous; in the meantime Guérande and his trusty aide Mazamette have discovered what the gang is up to and race to save the fiancée. The men capture Vep and tie her up but Venomous rescues her and leads Guérande and Mazamette on an exciting chase and a shooting match atop a train before finally escaping our heroes.
More action-thriller than crime thriller compared to earlier episodes, Part 9 features Irma Vep in quite a lot of action herself and taking the initiative in spying on and following Guérande’s movements despite being under Venomous’s command. Once again, the plot narrative is convoluted though it revolves around the engagement party and spiriting the happy couple to safety before the Vampires can kill them. Mazamette’s troubles with the police provide plenty of tension-easing laughs and Guérande gets himself in lots of scrapes while playing the hero.
As always, the film is clear and thrilling to watch; a cultural historian will find much of interest in the interior sets and designs and the quotidian customs and activities of the middle class and their servants. There can be a lot of expressionist over-acting but it doesn’t detract from the action and excitement that it generates. Guérande’s lady is hardly seen at all and this in itself is an interesting contrast with Irma Vep’s planning and activity: the bad girl does all the exhilarating things the boys do while the good girl acts the helpless infant who must be shielded from bad people.
This time the bad guys escape and we viewers must await the final showdown between the good guys Guérande and Mazamette on one hand and the Vampires on the other in Part 10 which concludes the serial.