Julian West (Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg) in Vampyr (film still from Vampyr)

Vampyr (1932)

Although credited as Julian West, the star of Carl Dreyer’s haunting film Vampyr is really Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg, the film-loving son of a Russian aristocratic family whose international travels had become an exile following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

Baron Nicolas met Dreyer at a party in Paris; they fell into conversation, and he offered to help fund Vampyr, on condition that he be allowed to play the lead role: Allan Gray, a young man whose interest in the occult leads him into conflict with a vampire.

This seems to have been de Gunzburg’s only acting role: he later moved to the USA, where he worked as an editor on magazines including Town & Country and Vogue. Nicolas de Gunzburg’s life story is told in a fifteen-minute documentary included as an extra in the Masters of Cinema DVD release of Vampyr.

Vampyr is based on the work of Sheridan Le Fanu, but there’s a remarkable physical similarity between Julian West / Baron Nicolas and another horror author, H. P. Lovecraft (photo right), who was writing during the period when the film was made.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be so noticeable if it wasn’t for the fact that Allan Gray and Lovecraft share an interest in the more esoteric mysteries of life, or in the blurring between dreams and reality: as it is, one can’t help pondering the opening line from Lovecraft’s short story, ‘The Picture in the House’: Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places.

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