The Fearless Vampire Killers


The Fearless Vampire Killers Review

Even when he's at his most serious (The Pianist), his most stately (Tess), his most gruesome (Macbeth), Roman Polanski is a director with a keen, sardonic black wit. The "real" world, for Polanski, is one in which you might find human teeth embedded in the walls, where the neighbors might happen to be Satanists, where Donald Pleasance appears in drag. It's scary, but for Polanski (who lived through unimaginable horrors himself), it's blackly funny, too. And if the material is ostensibly quite heavy, as it is in The Pianist, so much the better. Weren't Nazis a kind of monster after all? How absurd was their rise to power? And how absurd the situations in which his protagonist found himself obliged to live?

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.

The Fearless Vampire Killers

Facts and Figures

Genre: Comedies

Run time: 91 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 1st June 1967


Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Filmways Pictures, Cadre Films

Reviews 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Fresh: 19 Rotten: 10

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew



Starring: as Professor Abronsius, as Alfred, the Professor Assistant, as Shagal, as Rebecca Shagal, as Sarah Shagal, as Count von Krolock, as Herbert von Krolock, Terry Downes as Koukol, the Servant, as Magda, the Maid, as Village Idiot, Sydney Bromley as Sleigh Driver

Also starring: ,