Roman Polanski directs and stars in this comedy about two incompetent vampire hunters who enter Transylvania in search of quarry.
Fearless Vampire Killers, The (1967)
Directors: Roman Polanski
Producers: Gene Gutowski
Writers: Gerard Brach And Roman Polanski
Features: Widescreen, Color, Original Trailer, Featurette "Vampire 101," English Dolby Digital Mono (CC), French Dolby Digital Mono, English, Spanish And French Subtitles.
Professor Abronsius...Jack MacGowran
Count Von Krolock...Ferdy Mayne
Here's a vampire story that's a little different. Well, at one time it was a little different. You see, "The Fearless Vampire Killers" came out more than thirty-five years ago, in 1967 to be specific. It's kind of a forgotten film that has only recently made it to DVD with twenty more minutes than it's original release had. I saw it way back and it has always been one of my favorite comedy horror films. That's right, this movie that also had the alternate title "Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck" tacked on by the studio is a subtle, though sometimes not, farce about two intrepid vampire hunters who travel to Transylvania looking for trouble. Actually neither one of them has ever encountered a vampire before. The older gentleman is a professor with only theories to guide him and his younger assistant, Alfred(Roman Polanski), has even less to go on. Did I say Roman Polanski? Well then this movie must definitely be different. Not only is Polanski starring in this film, he directed it and co-wrote the screenplay. The only thing more that could be asked for is for Polanski's long dead wife, Sharon Tate, to be in it too, and guess what?...she is. This film was made before Polanski had achieved his fame in the United States with "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown." It was even made before law enforcement took an interest in Polanski and his relationship with a thirteen year old girl. And, of course, if Sharon Tate is in it then it was made before the Charles Manson family brutally murdered her in California.
This film gets your attention immediately with the opening credits. Since it was an MGM owned picture at the time(this is a Warner Brother's DVD---don't ask me how), it opens with the MGM lion giving out his traditional roar and then suddenly this lion morphs into a green, ghoulish looking cartoon creature with large fangs from which a large, red drop of blood falls. This drop keeps falling as rolling credits appear and then the movie opens to a scene of two men in a horse drawn sleigh being pursued by wolves in a snowy tundra in a desolate countryside of Transylvania. Young Alfred has to beat off the wolves with an umbrella while his associate, Professor Abronsius(Jack MacGowran), seems oblivious to the peril. Soon they arrive at a snow encrusted inn which is decorated with garlands of garlic that cause the professor to get excited as this is a sure sign according to his reasearch that vampires are in the vicinity. All his inquires are rebuffed by the inhabitants of the tavern so the two travelers get a room for the night. As everyone knows, night is when vampirish things happen and there is no exception here.
One of the main strengths of this film is it's look of authenticity. Everything looks so old Europe. The land is barren and bleak with it's coat of snow. The people that survive in this land are fat and puffy looking with snow beaten skin and bulbous noses. Their dress looks old Europe even though this movie was filmed in England. I guess Polanski used his rememberances of Poland, which has never been known to be modern, to help decorate the movie set. This appearance of reality to everything adds to the flesh and tone of the movie.
Though this movie is about the supernatural denizens of the night, Polanski doesn't play them up as most vampire movies do. Polanski likes to create interesting characters. You are never not interested in any of the people that flit across the screen. From the simple innkeeper(Alfie Bass) who has his lecherous eye on his beautiful, golden blonde barmaid to the innkeeper's beautiful daughter, Sarah(Sharon Tate), who simply likes to take long soapy baths, these ordinary inhabitants of "The Fearless Vampire Killers" capture the viewers' attention. You are as curious about their day to day existance as you are of the horrors waiting outside the inn.
Even when it comes to the stock in trade boss vampire, Polanski cannot let it be. He breathes in a life to that creature and gives him a nobility not seen since Bela Lugosi first flapped a cape. As much as he builds this monster up, Polanski gives him feet of clay in the form of his son, a very effete young man more interested in biting the neck of young Alfred than any part of the beautiful Sarah. When Alfred and the son meet, Alfred has an all too different feeling that does not necessarily emanate out of the fear of becoming one of the undead.
Speaking of the undead, when the stone crypts slide open in the count's castle graveyard for the midnight ball, a crew as motley and dilapidated has not ever been seen. Taking to the dance floor, these beings cause a quiet horror with an under current of the absurd. This builds as the undead dance majestically with the still living. Everything appears normal, yet the audience knows better.
"The Fearless Vampire Killers" DVD is rich in color and texture. Periodically, there will be some film dropout. It only seems to be light and only on a few segments. It is not very bothersome. The sound, in mono, is great with no problems. The DVD has the original trailer and a ten minute featurette called "Vampire 101." This short, comedic film has a Professor Montague extrapolate about the vampire legend and winds up showing the same original trailer already on this DVD. There is no inner liner page to give any further information about the movie or have a reproduction of one of the film's original posters. This is unfortunate. A film masterpiece like this deserves more, but let's be greatful it has been resurrected on DVD.
This film is a rare treat. You thought you knew Polanski from his recent Oscar winning film, "The Pianist," now get reaquainted. This movie gets four and a half out of five stars.