Still, there are few declared comedies in Polanski's filmography. The best of these, 1967's The Fearless Vampire Killers (known outside the U.S. as Dance of the Vampires, and the basis of a recent, successful, European stage musical), is newly available on DVD.
Of course, even here the humor is premised on horror. The film follows the adventures of one Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his classically bumbling assistant Alfred (well played by Polanski himself), the fearless killers of the title, whose travels take them to a Transylvanian inn blanketed with snow. This inn is festooned with garlic; could there be vampires in the castle nearby? As in Kafka, the locals won't quite say. Alfred, being a young man, falls in love with the innkeeper's daughter Sara (Sharon Tate), but the nefarious castle-owner, a certain Count von Krolock (wonderfully played by Ferdy Mayne), chooses her as his victim, and the hunt is underway.
The Fearless Vampire Killers has the bright, cheap look of the kind of Hammer horror films that were produced in abundance in its day, and a tone that's marvelously balanced between garish horror and broad, neck-breaking comedy. Like the Hammer films, it's sexy, in a teasing way, too, particularly in the presence of Tate. (Polanski and Tate fell in love on the set and were subsequently wed; she was murdered by the Manson family a short two years later.) Even the stupidest of the jokes in Fearless Vampire Killers - there is, for instance, a Jewish vampire who isn't much bothered by the cross a potential victim waves at him - are redeemed by the movie's macabre silliness and folkloric atmosphere. And as for the garlic, the vampires here just don't care.
The Fearless Vampire Killers was Polanski's first big-budget feature, and it was saddled with its terrible title (The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck in full) by a nervous studio for its American release. The film was also re-edited so badly that Polanski asked that his name be withdrawn from the credits. This DVD provides the full Polanski-approved version and a making-of featurette. Check it out.
Aka The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, Your Teeth Are in My Neck, Dance of the Vampires, The Vampire Killers, Vampire Ball.
Run time: 91 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 1st June 1967
Distributed by: WARNER BROTHERS PICTURES
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Filmways Pictures, Cadre Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Fresh: 19 Rotten: 10
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Roman Polanski
Producer: Gene Gutowski
Starring: Jack MacGowran as Professor Abronsius, Roman Polanski as Alfred, the Professor Assistant, Alfie Bass as Shagal, Jessie Robins as Rebecca Shagal, Sharon Tate as Sarah Shagal, Ferdy Mayne as Count von Krolock, Iain Quarrier as Herbert von Krolock, Terry Downes as Koukol, the Servant, Fiona Lewis as Magda, the Maid, Ronald Lacey as Village Idiot, Sydney Bromley as Sleigh Driver