The Fearless Vampire Killers 1967 Dir. Roman Polanski
I don’t really know what to say about this film. It’s not completely a horror movie, nor is it entirely a comedy, at least not the slapstick affair that American distributers promoted. I’ve heard that the film’s director, Roman Polanski, hoped to create a fairy tale with this film. and that might be the only way to view it.
Originally titled, “Dance of the Vampires” The Fearless Vampire Killers or Pardon Me, But your Teeth Are in My Neck was Polanski’s first color film after directing Repulsion two years previous. The film follows the adventures of vampire scholar Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his assistant Alfred (Polanski) as they travel to Transylvania in search of vampires. Upon arriving at a mountain inn, the duo run afoul of the evil Count Von Krolock who snatches away the innkeeper’s beautiful daughter Sarah (Sharon Tate). In an effort to recover her, and gather information for his book, the Professor and Alfred enter the Count’s castle, becoming unwitting pawns in the vampire’s plans for power.
The Fearless Vampire Killers was the most elaborate film that Polanski had ever directed at that time. The film was shot in anamorphic widescreen, showcasing the grandiose sets and beautiful shooting locations. The best craftsmen were put to work on the film creating sets, costumes and choreography. The movie has a dreamlike quality I wasn’t entirely prepared for, but it works to film’s advantage. However, I must be honest, I found some of the comedic scenes confusing upon first viewing. Although never committing entirely to slapstick, the comedy in the film is broad. While I found most of the elaborate chase sequences not to my comedic tastes, I did find some of the more specific flourishes very funny. The scene in which a vampire innkeeper quibbling with a hunchback over sleeping arrangements is a delightful character moment, as is the scene where the Count’s son attempts to seduce the innocent Alfred.
However, the real crown jewel of this film, other than the gorgeous Sharon Tate, is the ballroom sequence in which the Professor and Alfred attempt to rescue Sarah, while traversing a ballroom filled with waltzing vampires. This scene is a masterpiece and would go on to influence other media including an issue of the B.P.R.D. comic series, as well as the ballroom sequence in Van Helsing* It is also worth noting the score of this film. Created by Krzysztof Komeda, the score for The Fearless Vampire Killers feels at times like an atonal lullaby offering both sweetness and menace with its use of vocals and harpsichord. Komeda would also lend his off-kilter musical sensibilities to Rosemary’s Baby a year later. Though not hummable, the music for this film is unforgettable.
As previously mentioned, this film may work best if viewed as a fairy tale instead of a horror comedy. There is definitely a Bothers Grimm quality to it. Featuring innkeepers with beautiful daughters, young men in love, monsters in castles and elaborate escape sequences The Fearless Vampire Killers has old world charm with plenty of lavish design to spare, resting somewhere in between Hammer’s Horror of Dracula and The Princess Bride.
*Perhaps the only good scene in that film.