The history of cinema would not be the same without Fritz Lang . The German filmmaker shaped genres such as science fiction -‘Metropolis’ (1927)- and suspense -‘Doctor Mabuse’ (1922)-, and spoke of serial killers before Netflix made them fashionable with its series. Lang’s ‘true crime’ is not, however, a simple narration of facts in the key of intrigue, but a unique social study in which at the same time he explores a despicable character and questions society -and the spectators- about what they should do with it. That’s right ‘ M, the vampire from Düsseldorf‘, which was his first sound film and one of his scariest films he’s ever made. The visual and narrative complexity that characterized his entire career serves here as a perverse plot, about a pedophile based on the real case of Peter Kürten.

Nicknamed “The Vampire of Düsseldorf” for having confessed that he drank blood from some of his victims, the character serves Lang as a mirror of a Germany where the great depression after the First World War has given way to the rise of the Nazi party , with which the filmmaker had noisy clashes. That aura of threat that ran through the country is also that of this film, whose first scene is absolutely brilliant. In a matter of minutes he tells us everything we need to know about the story. With a suggestive visual language and a musical motif that will be repeated in the story -until it becomes a key element in it-, we address why this scene is wonderful both as an introduction to the story and as a story in itself.m-the-vampire-of-duesseldorf.jpg


The film begins with a few seconds of black screen -creepy from the beginning- until we begin to hear the songs of a girl. The image arrives and we see a group of children playing in the street. The girl in the center, who we will know as Elsie Beckman ( Inge Landgut ), sings a song that says: “Soon the vampire will come with his knife and will make mincemeat of you.”. It has the tone of those melodies that in childhood we used to choose or discard someone -a la “Pinto, pinto, gurgorito”-, only the lyrics weren’t usually so disturbing. With just that song, Lang tells us that the legend of this vampire who takes children is settled in the neighborhood, and that children, because they are children, take it as a joke. Only in this close-up there are already two very interesting details. First, the camera angle: it’s slightly choppy, from above, as if the group is being watched . The second has to do with the arrangement of the characters, in a circle, being randomly discarded by Elsie. That way of choosing them and leaving them out works as an innocent image of what is happening in real life with M., which chooses its prey and leaves them off the board.

The game is not over, but everyone must go home. Without cutting the shot, the camera moves to the upper part of the patio, from where one of her mothers leans out to yell at them that she’s okay with being out on the street. The children go about their business, and the scene moves to some stairs, through which we see a woman climbing with great difficulty. She is pregnant, carrying a baby that has not yet been born, although, as we will see, the weight is no less important for those who already have them running around. The weight of motherhood .m-the-vampire-of-duesseldorf-movie.jpg

We enter the home of Elsie’s mother, to whom the other woman has left clean clothes, and the clock catches our eye. It’s time to leave school, and the sound montage is very interesting: the “chimes” of the cuckoo clock are joined by the school bell and the horns of passing cars. The film thus connects three spaces – the girl, the mother and the street – that are about to mix to the fate of all.

We finally see Elsie again, who, saying goodbye to her friends, is almost hit by a car . That first death notice is not trivial. It is a warning for her and a first clue for the viewers. A policeman finally helps her cross the street and follows her path. After seeing how her mother anxiously waits for her daughter, preparing the dish on the table for her, we see the girl playing with the ball as she walks down the sidewalk. Arriving at a post, she throws the ball and catches it, over and over again. But the surface on which she is doing it is not accidental: it is a “Wanted” poster, which offers 10,000 marks to whoever can reveal the identity or situation of the Düsseldorf vampire.

M, he vampire from Düsseldorf


While quietly playing with the post, Lang shows us the killer for the first time . And his way of doing it couldn’t be more successful, because he… he doesn’t do it. On the post we see the silhouette of a man with a hat, simply his shadow, who looks down at the girl and asks her what his name is. It is a visual choice with a lot of meaning, and how can Evil be represented? Or the danger? Can you put a face to a monster of these characteristics? Later in the film we will see that yes, in the flesh of Peter Lorre , but for now he is an abstract entity, a faceless demon who lives in the shadows of the city. At home, the mother waits. Other children have arrived, but Elsie has not. The tragedy begins to announce itself.