Format: DVD from North Suburban Library District through interlibrary loan on various players.
I didn’t realize how successful Roman Polanski’s comedy/horror film The Fearless Vampire Killers (originally titled Dance of the Vampires and sometimes accompanied with the subtitle Pardon Me, but Your Teeth are in My Neck, hence the title of this review) really was. There’s a musical version of it originally in German that played on Broadway. It’s also, as far as I know, Polanski’s only dip into comedy. That’s honestly probably a good thing, because this is not a comedy that has aged well.
I don’t want to be misunderstood here, though. The comedy hasn’t aged well. The rest of the movie actually has, more or less. The Fearless Vampire Killers is not that funny, and the humor it contains doesn’t translate to the modern age very well. But without the comedy, it’s still not a bad little vampire movie. It’s not great by any stretch, but it’s not bad.
We’re going to play on the classic vampire myth here, including the traditional settings and era. This means that we’ll be mid-19th century and deep in the heart of Transylvania. Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his assistant Alfred (Polanski) are on the hunt for vampires. They wind up in a small town where the people participate in rituals to ward off evil. When Abronsius discovers that there is a castle nearby, he knows that vampires are near.
And, of course, they are. Alfred is immediately smitten with Sarah (Sharon Tate), the daughter of their innkeeper (Alfie Bass). When she is kidnapped by the local count (Ferdy Mayne), her father tries to rescue her, but he soon turns up completely drained of blood. And so Abronsious decides he wants to find the vampires while Alfred decides that he wants to rescue Sarah. And off they go to the castle, where they find far more vampires than they were prepared to meet.
When I say that the comedy doesn’t really translate, I’m speaking in large part about the character of Herbert (Iain Quarrier), the count’s very gay and vampiric son. We’re undoubtedly supposed to laugh as Herbert attempts to bed Alfred, who has to work hard to avoid the vampire’s amorous advances not because it’s funny that he’s amorous, but because it’s funny that he’s gay. When we find out later that the Count has decided that Alfred is going to essentially be his son’s vampiric concubine, we’re supposed to find that funny for the same reasons—Alfred is going to be forced into a gay relationship against his will. That might well have worked in 1967, but it doesn’t fly today.
A lot of what is going to happen here is going to be the sort of “wacky antics” that seemed common for the time. We’re not going to get a lot different from movies like The Pink Panther--mild slapstick, moderate innuendo, and gags that really aren’t that funny any more. And so, The Fearless Vampire Killers becomes less about the humor and more about a couple of bumbling heroes attempting to stop a vampire plague.
Another problem is simply the people involved in this. Knowing what her fate was to be in just a couple of years, it’s not easy to watch Sharon Tate on screen. It’s so damn depressing, because she was an engaging actor, someone whom, as the saying goes, the camera loved. At the same time, it’s unpleasant to see Roman Polanski on screen as well, knowing the actions that he would eventually take. It’s hard to root for a guy who, a few years in the future from this film, would be so credibly accused of the statutory rape and sodomizing of a 13-year-old girl that he still can’t set foot back in the U.S.
So what we end up with is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s an interesting play on the traditional vampire myth with a few changes that are more superficial than anything else. The humor fails for the most part, though, and that’s really the only thing that even attempts to separate this from the pack of similar films. That being the case, it’s not terrible, but it’s also not something that deserves more than a single viewing.
Why to watch The Fearless Vampire Killers: It’s a rare opportunity to see Sharon Tate. Why not to watch: It’s not that funny.