The Fearless Vampire Killers, or: Pardon Me, but Your Teeth Are in My Neck
Period horror comedies were virtually unheard of in 1967, and although all of Roman Polanski's work up to that year had shone a flair for blacker-than-pitch grave-digger humor, this would be the first time he had experimented with outright comedy
Reviewed by Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 26, 2004
The Fearless Vampire Killers, or: Pardon Me, but Your Teeth Are in My NeckWarner Home Video, $19.99
Light-years from the director's previous two films 1965's Repulsion and 1966's Cul-de-Sac this was as much a turning point for Polanski as it was for his new lover and future wife, Texan Sharon Tate, the buxom, Sixties-embodying actress (and former Beverly Hillbillies regular) who would fall prey to the Manson clan just two years later. Here, however, she's gorgeous and doomed as Sarah, the daughter of an innkeeper in a remote Transylvanian hamlet. She's both a dinner object for the local vampire clique, led by Ferdy Mayne's flamboyant Count Von Krolock, as well as the somewhat oblivious object of the mensch Alfred, assistant to the titular Professor Abronsius (MacGowran of The Exorcist). Period horror comedies were virtually unheard of in 1967, and although all of Polanski's work up to that year had shone a flair for blacker-than-pitch grave-digger humor (most notably Repulsion), this would be the first time he had experimented with outright comedy, which here runs the gamut from sight gags and pratfalls straight out of vaudeville (one character goes sailing down a snowbound mountainside astride an open coffin) to double-entendres and more subtle tomfoolery. Even the appearance of Polanski, with his wide eyes and pronounced nasal appendage, is treated as something of a gag. The rest of the film, though, judging from the lovingly art-directed castle and village set-pieces, looks like an homage to the then-reigning Hammer Films Studio and their Christopher Lee Dracula franchise. Few people may recall it today, but perhaps the single best aspect of Polanski's film is the musical score, from Krzysztof Komeda, best remembered for his penning of the Rosemary's Baby skin-crawling lullaby. Both humor and horror work in tandem and work well here (the crotchety Jewish vampire is a particularly nice touch), a feat that wouldn't again be pulled off with full success until John Landis' An American Werewolf in London, and, more recently, Shaun of the Dead. The Fearless Vampire Killers (the subtitle was appended for the American release only), feels utterly foreign to those two films, an antiquated if lovely period film that straddles the Rubicon between outright camp and outright emotional malaise. The horrific sucker punch of a denouement is pure Polanski, though, as it comes atop a moment of tender comedics from the director himself. What's most interesting about the film is its pure alienness: For nearly all of its running time, it feels as if you're watching a foreign film translated into English and then back again, which lends the proceedings, including the comedy, a bizarrely surreal touch. It's almost dreamlike in its weird little tone, a Manischewitz hangover of a nightmare that's giddy enough to usher chuckles and is thoroughly unique. The DVD is sparse on the extras, however, with only the film's original trailer and a lengthy and tedious promo reel titled "Vampires 101," which is hardly worth the inclusion.