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THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS

Roman Polanskiís 1967 vampire comedy is not one of his better films, being a lugubrious affair thatís never particularly funny or terribly scary.  It does have its moments, though. 

The Package 
     This filmís full title is THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, OR: PARDON ME, BUT YOUR TEETH ARE IN MY NECK.  That moniker and its subtitle were cooked up by MGM (the original title was DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES), who trimmed around twenty minutes for its US release (since restored) and added a goofy cartoon at the beginning that Roman Polanski detested.  Not that the film was ever particularly praiseworthy; it was supposed to be a lighthearted and commercial spoof of vampire pictures, particularly of the Hammer variety, but was a critical and financial disaster.  Luckily Polanskiís next project was 1968ís phenomenally successful ROSEMARYíS BABY, which delivered the kind of commercial thrills promised by FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS.
     The female lead was the beautiful Sharon Tate, Polanskiís then wife, in one of her last film appearances.  Two years after its release Tate and her unborn child were murdered by deranged followers of Charles Manson while Polanski was out of the country.  The event would color Polanskiís life and career for years to come, long after the present film was forgotten.  

The Story 
     The aging Professor Abronsius has been widely jeered at and dismissed by his colleagues for his fervent belief in vampirism.  Undaunted, he and his dorky assistant Alfred travel to the castle of the alleged bloodsucker Count Von Krolock, located in the snowbound mountains of Transylvania. 
     First, though, Abronsius and Alfred stop off at an inn which, they quickly discern, is infested with vampires.  This fact becomes particularly apparent when Alfred, spying on the innkeeperís alluring daughter Sarah, witnesses a vamp snatch her out of a bathtub.  Abronsius and Alfred spend the following day prowling the innís shadowy corners and staking vampires, and then head for Von Krolockís castle, where theyíre given a decidedly chilly welcome.
     It transpires that several bloodsuckers are staying at the castle, where a caste system is in effect: the aristocratic vamps get their coffins placed in an upper level while everyone else has to make do with shabby basement quarters.  The following day our intrepid vampire hunters set out to stake the sleeping vampires, but Abronsius gets stuck attempting to bust into the vampsí quarters while Alfred sneaks off in search of Sarah, whoís to be the belle of the vampiresí ball that very night. 
     The sun sets and Alfred manages to free his boss from his confinement, but the two are locked out in the cold as the vampires commence their celebration.  Good thing thereís a cannon nearby, which Abronsius uses to blast a hole in the castle; thus he and Alfred enter and take part in the ball.  Theyíre found out, though, when the vampires notice that Abronsius and Alfred are the only individuals visible in a large wall mirror.  They manage to escape together with Sarah, not realizing sheís been vampirized, and is set to be first step in Von Krolockís dastardly plan for world domination. 

The Direction 
     To be sure, this filmís technical credits, in keeping with Polanskiís oeuvre, are uniformly top notch (excepting the hopelessly dated rear- and front-screen projection effects of the beginning and end), from the excellent widescreen cinematography by Douglas Slocombe (it was Polanskiís first-ever color film) to the pleasingly eccentric music by the late Kryzstof Komeda to the mostly impeccable special effects, which reach their pinnacle in the climactic vampire dance, in which the non-vampiric protagonists cavort with dozens of vamps while simultaneously dancing by themselves in a wall-sized mirror (vampires, remember, donít cast reflections).  Even the performances by Jack MacGowran as the dotty Professor Abronsius and Polanski himself as his goofball assistant are fairly endearing, despite the fact that neither character is particularly well defined.  In a word, the film has personality.
     The problem is it has the wrong personality.  As a comedy itís never very funny, with deadly slow pacing and a dour tone.  Polanski is known for injecting a perverse sense of humor into his films, but not for making out-and-out comedies, and with good reason.  Yet he also fails to work up many scares, as the film is far too jokey and lightweight.  What weíre left with is a comedy-horror movie that satisfies as neither. 


Vital Statistics 

THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, OR: PARDON ME, BUT YOUR TEETH ARE IN MY NECK
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 

Director: Roman Polanski
Producer: Gene Gutowski
Screenplay: Roman Polanski, Gerard Brach
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Editing: Alastair McIntyre
Cast: Jack MacGowran, Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, Alfie Bass, Ferdy Mayne, Fiona Lewis, Iain Quarrier, Terry Downes, Ronald Lacey, Sydney Bromley, Andreas Malandrinos, Otto Diamant, Matthew Walters
 


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