Wednesday, January 19, 2022

365 Days: #19 Les Vampires Episode 3: The Red Cryptogram (1915)

With only a few short episodes, this serial is already starting to grow on me. 

#19 Les Vampires Episode 3: The Red Cryptogram

It turns out that the Vampires did kill Philippe's fiancée, Marfa, and he's now busily decoding a cryptogram from a red notebook found on the Vampires' Grand Inquisitor. The message he discovers states that the notebook contains records of the Vampire's crimes, and misfortune will come to those who know its secrets.

Philippe's boss pops in to find out why he's not at work, and finds Philippe in bed looking terribly ill. Philippe hands him a note to insert into his column explaining that he will have to pause his investigations as he's sick and confined to his room. 

As soon as he leaves, Philippe jumps out of bed and begins pumping iron. He goes to the window and sees that the Vampires are watching his house.

Philippe sneaks out in a nifty disguise with an eyepatch to go to the disreputable cabaret, "The Howling Cat," and sees a placard advertising goth girl, Irma Vep, outside. The letters helpfully rearrange themselves to make it easy to see that he has figured out it's an anagram for Vampire, which is actually a pretty neat trick.

Inside the cabaret, Irma seems to be giving a motivational speech, and is well received. While some of the audience members leave at the end of her set, a group follows her backstage. When Philippe tries to follow them, he is escorted outside.

It turns out there is a Vampire party going on backstage with a couple putting on a display of rough, hair-grabbing dancing, while the rest of the gang watches. The Grand Vampire aka the Great Julot, formerly known as the Count of Noirmoutier, who once impersonated the dead Doctor Nox, shares the newspaper announcement of Philippe being out of commission with Irma Vep, noting that the red notebook must be at home with him. 

Because his home is being watched by Vampires, Philippe has to sneak into his house through the chimney, startling his dear, old mother. A brick gets tossed down the chimney with a note, informing him that a friend who knows the house is under Vampire surveillance is waiting on the roof to meet with him, and requests that he send a signal through the chimney. Philippe lights a paper on fire and has his gun at the ready to train on the man who drops down. It turns out to be Mazamette disguised as an undertaker. 

Philippe asks if he's staying honest, and Mazamette produces his Funeral Director certificate with a good recommendation, stating none of his clients have ever filed a complaint. He then writes out a note that says he stole the pen he is writing with from the Grand Master of the Vampires, and that the ink is a poison that causes an instant, violent death. He gives the pen to Philippe, bids his mother farewell, and leaves through the chimney.

Days later, the Guérandes' maid is called away and a replacement, who turns out to be Irma Vep, is sent by the employment agency. At first, Philippe doesn't recognize her when she comes to clean his room, but soon realizes who she is when she seems to take notice of Marfa's photo on his desk. He takes the red notebook away from her as she begins dusting it, and allows her to see where he places it.

That night, she comes to his room, and as he pretends to be asleep at his desk, he uses a mirror to observe her switching out his bottle of tonic with an identical one. She turns down the bed and rouses him. While she's turned away, he puts the red notebook in his pajama pocket and allows her to see where he places a duplicate notebook. She leaves and he pours the tonic into a vase of flowers, refilling the bottle with water, and placing the poison pen in the pocket of his pajama top.

His mother comes in his room and shows him a note from her brother, Jean, that says he's been in a car accident and urgently needs her to come see him. She gets ready to leave, and Philippe checks that his gun is under his pillow. When she returns to his room, he gives her the poison pen.

After she's gone, the maid pours him some tonic in a glass. He pretends to sleep and she goes to her room to signal the Vampire stationed outside with an oil lamp. 

Philippe's mother arrives at her brother's house, where the maid informs her that he has gone to the theater, and assures her he has not been in an accident. Since her taxi has left, she begins walking home. A carriage rolls up, and as she speaks to the driver, he gags her with his scarf, stuffs her into the carriage and drives off. 

As Philippe pretends to sleep, Irma lets a black-clad Vampire in through the window to take notebook from where she saw Philippe place it. Philippe shoots the Vampire and Irma, and goes to the window to call for police. He goes to the door to let police in, and when they return to his room, both criminals have escaped. The police see them making their getaway along the rooftops and follow in pursuit. Philippe examines his gun and sees that it has been loaded with blanks. 

Meanwhile, his mother is bound to a chair in a tenement room with a deaf and dumb guard who calls himself Father Silence. He informs her by note that he is ordered to kill her if she refuses to write a letter to Philippe asking him to bring the red notebook, and that she will be executed in an hour if he refuses to do so. 

She begins to write the letter and breaks the stylus. He gives her the poison pen from her purse and she drops it onto his hand, causing ink to get on his skin. 

He begins to feel pain in his hand and pulls out his gun to shoot her, but misses as he convulses violently and drops to the ground. She unties herself, picks up his gun, and removes the key from his pocket to set herself free. She flags down a car and gets a ride.

Irma Vep and The Great Julot go down a well that leads to the room where Mrs. Guérande was being held and discover the forever silenced Father Silence, as well as his poison pen. He realizes there is a traitor amongst them and vows to discover who it is.

Philippe's mom safely returns home. 

Those Vampires sure are a nasty lot, decapitating police officers, murdering Philippe's fiancée on stage, and now kidnapping and threatening his mom! If their plot had succeeded, they surely would have killed her once they had the notebook. I love that she knew how to handle herself and extricated herself from the situation without needing to be rescued by her son. Madame Guérande needs to have her own series! I wonder if Mazamette will evade The Great Julot, or if he will be discovered to be the traitor in their midst. It's odd that Philippe keeps a photo of Marfa dressed in the Vampire costume she wore when she died on stage. 

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