The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

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Time once again for the monthly Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movie Challenge, when fellow blogger Mike’s Take on the Movies assigns me a movie I’ve never seen, and vice versa.

This month Mike gave me Roman Polanski’s comedy-horror film The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me but Your Teeth Are in My Neck (1967, aka Dance of the Vampires, the movie’s original title). I was expecting a spoof along the lines of Young Frankenstein (1974) but this felt more like a quirky fairy tale, with its blend of slapstick and cartoonish gags, twists on vampire lore and Hammer Studio style, genuinely scary moments, adult humour and comment on class, religion and Polish history.

After a great opening credits sequence (which includes the MGM lion morphing into an animated vampire) we’re introduced to our bumbling leads. Noted bat and vampire authority Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran, looking like a goofy Albert Einstein) arrives in Transylvania with his naive, perpetually astonished and mostly useless disciple Alfred (Polanski). Alfred is instantly smitten with the tavern owners’ daughter Sarah (Sharon Tate), but soon a suave and dramatic vampire, Count Von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne, doing his best Christopher Lee) drops through the skylight and whisks Sarah away to his castle. Our two “heroes” follow with bag of garlic and wooden stakes, and Alfred is obsessed with saving Sarah, but at vital moments he chickens out or holds the stake wrong side up. In the end, Sarah, who’s much happier as a vampire anyway, turns Alfred into her undead companion while the Professor unknowingly takes the couple into the general population, thus ensuring mankind’s doom and the German Count’s plan for world domination.

Tons of creepy Gothic atmosphere thanks in large part to a great set and Douglas Slocombe’s gorgeous photography of the Italian Alps. The movie makes comedy of the place’s beauty and danger; there’s a ski chase that would fit right into a Bond movie, the Professor nearly freezes to death twice (once while wedged tight in a tiny turret window), a coffin is used like a sled, and in my favourite bit, Alfred drops the duo’s bag of anti-vampire gear and watches it slalom away for what seems like an eternity.

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Innkeeper Shagal (Alfie Bass), a Jewish vampire, is immune to the crucifix and segregated in the castle, the Count’s “sensitive” son Herbert (Iain Quarrier) has eyes for Alfred and offers to try out some of the courtship techniques in the book Alfred’s studying to impress Sarah. There are buxom wenches saying and doing intentionally or inadvertently suggestive things, a fabulous Vampire’s Ball, and a hunchbacked woodworker Koukol (Terry Downes) who crafts the coffins for the growing gang of neck-biters. When the duo watches dozens of those coffins creak open in the courtyard after sunset, it’s as scary as anything in a “real” horror movie, especially set to that great score by Krzysztof Komeda.

Really enjoyed this movie, it was weird fun, spooky and memorable, and I think Mike might use some of those same words to describe the noir I picked out for him to watch this month– go find out. 

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11 thoughts on “The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)”

  1. Glad you enjoyed this. I’ve always loved it’s mixture of Hammer styled sets and color with what appears to be a Warner Brothers Cartoon. It’s hokey and the dialogue is sometimes minimal letting the slapstick prevail. I think I’m due for a rewatch.

  2. Yes that’s a good description, hokey and silly. I had fun with it, it was slower than I expected at first but I got into it and liked the style and the irony. Several pointed and smart jabs and comments among the silliness! Fun 🙂

  3. It’s been a while since I last saw this. I agree it is a good mix of goofy and horrific, and it’s just splendid visually.

    1. Yes it is! There’s a bunch of his movies I haven’t seen: Repulsion, Cul de Sac, Knife in the Water and The Tenant, interested in giving those a look sometime.

  4. It took me a while to warm up to this one (ha and ha) over the years, but getting older helps a bit in appreciating this offbeat classic. I’d read that Polanski hated to the U.S. edit for a few reasons, but the film packs a mean little comic punch anyway. That ending is about as anti-Hollywood as you can get (as in if it were ever remade,we’d see a sequel set up that might not be as fun and odd as the original film was).

    1. This makes a nice double feature with What We Do in the Shadows. I liked the ending too, and I would be really interested to see the longer cut (nearly half an hour..?).

      1. Yes indeed, What We Do in the Shadows was hilarious and perfect as a companion piece. I need to see it again as I was laughing so hard the first two times that I know I missed a few bits.

  5. I saw this movie only once and I thought it was hilarious typical sixties period movie with Buxom ladies overflowing their dresses a gay vampire Son with a frustrated vampire dad and yes very scary scenes such as the dance ball when only our heroes are visible in the mirror and of course a hilarious and exciting scene as the hunchback attempts to cut off the exscape of Our Heroes using a coffin as a toboggan I must find it on a DVD so I can watch it with my sons

    1. The way you remember all these moments from only seeing it once goes to show how memorable this is. Fun stuff, like a live action cartoon!

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