In Berlin, where it had its world premiere, the film got a mixed reception. Critics praised it, while the audience was divided into two camps – art lovers were fascinated and enthusiastic, "but large sections of the audience understood so little of the symbolism in it that they laughed out loud, which ruined the effect of the film for the rest of the audience" (Victor Skaarup, in an undated, uncredited Danish newspaper clipping).
In Denmark, Vampire got a lot of advance publicity and was eagerly awaited – not least because of the genre! Most critics gave the film a fair amount of column space, while pointing out Dreyer’s originality and singular status as a genius who without compromise makes the singular films he is burning to do. The film is labelled "weird" and "experimental." It is called a "bizarre work" with "images of great and peculiar beauty" and "a wealth of masterful details." The Berlingske Tidende review calls Dreyer a "master of detail", Politiken calls him "a great artist” and Dagens Nyheder gives him the following accolade, "For the minority able to distinguish between cinema and moving pictures, 'Vampire' is an event, and the prophet will not in his fatherland, either, be denied the genius that in the history of film ranks Dreyer alongside Eistenstein, Pudofkin, Chaplin and Vertoff."
The critics also are unanimously concerned about the film’s audience appeal. The Dagens Nyheder review opens with the following reservation, "This will assuredly be no 'audience hit'…." Politiken’s closes with a similar misgiving, "But how will the audience react?" Berlingske Tidende takes the issue a step further, "But at the same it is a very challenging film, because it places insurmountable demands on the viewer (…) And the film requires considerable advance knowledge on the part of the audience (…) Without knowledge of these matters a film like this can seem parodic to the viewer."
Whether the Social-Demokraten reviewer represents an unconditioned viewer will remain unsaid, but the paper spends very little column space panning the film. "It is incomprehensible that Mr Dreyer has spent time, money and talent on this screenplay which is not worthy of the effort. (…) However, the generally macabre tone of the film makes it difficult for the acting to change the overall impression that we are here dealing with some fantastical nonsense […]. It is worth neither clapping nor hissing at."
Vampire ran for three weeks at Metropol-Teatret and, according to the distributor, it was a hit with audiences, selling 25,000 tickets over the first two weeks.
Berlingske Tidende on 19 October 1935 reported on a young man from Fjerritslev who became mentally disturbed after watching Vampire, "A few years ago the young man, who is around 25 years old, went to the movies and saw a much-discussed film at the time, 'Vampire.' The eerie film made such a strong impression on him that he has not spoken a word since. He claims he is under a curse and if he opens his mouth he will be possessed by a vampire. In some respects, he is sensible enough. Only, when someone asks him to speak, he shakes his head and makes the sign of the cross." Perhaps, he should have followed the critic’s warning in Aarhus Amtstidende on 25 April 1933, "People with weak nerves are advised not to see 'Vampire.'"
By Lisbeth Richter Larsen | 03. October