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.
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 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
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.
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.
THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE
KILLERS, OR: PARDON ME, BUT YOUR TEETH ARE IN MY NECK
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