Fearless Vampire Killers, The or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck (1967)

“I am a night bird; I am not much good in the daytime.”

Fearless Vampire Killers Poster

Synopsis:
Vampire-hunting Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his nebbishy assistant Alfred (Roman Polanski) arrive in a small Transylvanian town where Alfred falls for the beautiful, bath-loving daughter (Sharon Tate) of an innkeeper (Alfie Bass) and his wife (Jessie Robins). When Tate is bitten and kidnapped, Professor Abronsius and Alfred travel to the castle of Count Von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne), who is hosting a gala vampire ball.

Genres:

Review:
Critical and popular opinions seem to be enormously divided on this “genre outing” by Roman Polanski, who both starred and directed. Cult-like fans adore its quirky sensibilities, while detractors are annoyed by its over-reliance on slapstick and find its fame incomprehensible. Polanski himself apparently disowned the film (also known as Dance of the Vampires) when it was cut down from its original 148-minute running time to just 107 or 91 minutes. (Missing from the version I watched was this animated opening sequence, though I’m not sure what else was taken out.) Peary is clearly a fan, given that he lists it as a Personal Recommendation in the back of his book — but I happen to fall in the camp of detractors. I find the lead protagonists insufferable, and grow weary of the physical “knock-about” humor almost immediately.

With that said, I do appreciate Douglas Slocombe’s gorgeous cinematography — much shot in the snowy outdoors, which lends a unique atmosphere to the proceedings — and I also admire Polanski’s attempts at satirizing a beloved genre. The culminating vampire ball is quite a sight to behold, with the presence of decrepit and decaying aristocrats making one question the trope of vampires as invariably gorgeous young men and women. And Krystov Komeda’s score is mesmerizing. But none of this can make up for the inane slapstick and nincompoop leads. As a final thought, I will cite Time Out’s reviewer, who writes that “With all its faults, [it’s] an engaging oddity”; ultimately, all film fanatics should see it once to craft their own opinion.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography
    Fearless Vampires Cinematography
  • The creepy yet humorous vampire ball sequence
    Fearless Vampire Ball1
    Fearless Vampire Ball2
    Fearless Vampire Ball3
  • Krystov Komeda’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

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3 Responses to “Fearless Vampire Killers, The or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck (1967)”

  1. Must-see, as a cult classic – and one (in my opinion) that holds up very well on repeat viewings. I rewatch it at least once a year.

    This is the first I’ve heard that there was an original 148-minute version. To me, it would make more sense that the film had an original cut (as opposed to a version) of 148 minutes, since I can’t imagine Polanski wanting a comedy to run that long, esp. when most of his dramas don’t even run that long. So I find the rumor of that long a ‘version’ suspect. My understanding is that the cut was butchered down to 91 minutes (a truly terrible version, which I have seen) by its MGM producer – and that, eventually, the film was restored to a playing time of 107 minutes (designated as Polanski’s director’s cut).

    But, obviously, I’m a fan. I’m a little surprised at the comment that the film is full of “inane slapstick” involving “nincompoop leads”. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of slapstick comedy – esp. when it is over-used or when a film pretty much relies heavily on that in telling its story. However, I wouldn’t really call its use in ‘TFVK’ in keeping with traditional slapstick – nor do I think the leads are “nincompoops”. To me, the film runs more along the lines of classical farce (in which there is usually mayhem, of course, but not really slapstick). As well, to call the leads “nincompoops” would be to put them in the company of Laurel and Hardy or perhaps even Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

    But Polanski and MacGowran aren’t playing those kinds of characters. They’re not dumb; they’re serious and professional vampire hunters. But…some of the humor in what they do comes from the fact that MacGowran is like an old, absent-minded professor (one of my favorite lines in the film is about him: “He had even lost his chair at Königsberg University, where for a long time his colleagues used to refer to him as ‘The Nut’.”) and Polanski is the standard apprentice and “faithful disciple” who is clearly in awe of the professor’s knowledge. They may, of course, come up against obstacles (they’ve clearly bitten off more than they can chew in their ‘find’) but ultimately they are both surprisingly resourceful.

    Polanski has stated that his intent (along with his frequent co-writer Gerard Brach) was to pay homage to Hammer films. It’s clear Polanski loved those films – but why simply remake that style when you can also have fun with it by adding touches of wit?

    As fun as both MacGowran and Polanski are, it’s Ferdy Mayne as the Count who runs away with the film. His droll delivery could not be more perfect – and I like his European attitude toward his gay vampire son. 😉 (The scene where the son tries to seduce Polanski is, for me, a comic highlight.)

    Whenever I watch the film, I can’t deny an accompanying sense of melancholy due to seeing Sharon Tate. Still, though she’s not called on to do a lot, her presence is lovely and her performance is just right.

    I agree that the ball sequence is a marvel. And I do love the way ‘TFVK’ is filmed (a number of scenes are stunning) and Komeda’s eerie score could not be more appropriate.

    Side Note: I’m among the relatively few who saw the musical version on Broadway (the one that bombed). It was a mixed bag but it had a lot of good stuff in it and I rather enjoyed it. I also saw (on YouTube) the version of it that Polanski directed in Europe (much more faithful to the film; it’s a shame that Broadway producers foolishly attempted to broaden and ‘Americanize’ what worked so well overseas).

  2. I’m in complete agreement with your view David; a must-see classic but it’s fair to say that this one does divide folks. A true cult item in that it has a fervent band of followers in the minority and is largely not appreciated by the critical fraternity although that situation has improved since it’s release.

    The last time I watched this I noticed that it has a 1966 copyright date so we should all be listing it as such. I’m a firm believer in taking the earlier date for a film / TV production between copyright date and release date.

    Sadly, the only Blu-ray (BD) release thus far is a French one with forced French subtitles when the English track is selected. Also, it’s rumoured to be an upscale from standard definition.

  3. Also, the French disc is 1080/60i and not a proper 1080/24p release. Consequently it’s running time has a 4% speedup (103 minutes).

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