Whenever we have had a laptop at our disposal for the last two or three weeks, we have ended our days by taking it up to bed and watching an episode of Les Vampires. This was a series directed by Louis Feuillade, and made for Gaumont in the middle of World War I (1915-6). It is a crime thriller, in which an intrepid young reporter for the Mondial is pitted against a gang of master criminals known as Les Vampires. Don’t ask about the plots. The criminal crew is liable to change without notice (no less than four Chief Head Vampires are successively unmasked and destroyed, probably on account of asking for a raise). The one constant is Irma Vep (note anagram), played by Musidora, in constant danger of falling flat on her face, dragged down by the weight of her mascara. Irma is very wonderful. She abseils down buildings, leaps off cars, seduces anyone she has a mind to (including, almost, Our Hero), she is a mistress of disguise. She sings apache songs, can do a very (un)respectable can-can, and impersonate a ballerina. You keep thinking she’s dead but she isn’t. Apart from Irma, there are car chases, which have a particular charm when the vehicles are moving at 20 mph, rooftop chases, train-top chases, mysterious gases, secret formulae, grand hotels, divas with jewels, American millionaries, sweet young things, Apache dance-halls … and as if that were not quite sufficient, a scene in which a French officer in the Peninsular war fights and kills a bull with his cavalry sabre (this was an out-take from a discontinued historical epic which Feuillade couldn’t bear to part with: the Chief Head Vampire was therefore constrained to ‘hold his fellow hotel guests spell-bound with a reading from his grandfather’s memoirs’. So There). The dreamlike inconsequentiality of Les Vampires has been a wonderful way to end the day, but alas, last night, Irma Vep was finally, fatally shot, and that was the end. Next we will go onto Fantômas, but it hasn’t got Irma Vep in it, alas. A significant part of the charm of the whole thing is, of course, the mise-en-scène: the drawing-rooms and ball-rooms, the way the houses were organised — 90 years ago, now. Another additional interest is that it became almost immediately obvious that Irma and the gang lived again in the imagination of the late Edward Gorey. Detail after detail evoked his drawings, or rather, the other way round. Irma is almost every Gorey villainess that ever was by turns, except for the ones that are specifically New England. The little high cars are Gorey cars; the smart society ladies dressed, as he dressed them, by Poiret. There’s even a ballet-dancer dressed as a bat.