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.

Continue reading: The Fearless Vampire Killers Review