The Fearless Vampire Killers, or:
Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck
After the huge success of his psychological thriller Repulsion, Roman Polanski shifted gears completely and did a film that perhaps has more of himself in it than anything else he made. His work as a whole is generally seen as quite dark, and often bleak, but The Fearless Vampire Killers is a much sillier and fun Polanski than we're used to.
We begin with Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his apprentice Alfred (played by Polanski himself), riding toward Transylvania, on the hunt for vampires. They stop at an inn in a small town - Abronsius having barely survived the cold ride. They meet the innkeeper's daughter Sarah (Sharon Tate), who frequently occupies their supposedly private bathroom to indulge in bubble baths and who the clumsy and shy Alfred falls in love with. This particular part of the story would repeat itself in real life as Polanski and Tate began a romance on the set which would eventually lead to their marriage.
Our heroes, the vampire killers, however, turn out to be very inept indeed. Far from eradicating a vampire problem, they in fact make it worse, and end up responsible for spreading the evil to the rest of the world.
Critics seem to measure this film, as a horror-comedy, on the Young Frankenstein scale, where it quite obviously falls short, as there are precious few films as perfect as that one. However, The Fearless Vampire Killers is great silly fun, with a slightly more subued comedic sensibility. No less funny, though, just perhaps in a different way.
Perhaps I'd feel differently about it if it weren't so absolutely gorgeous-looking, with sumptuous colors and sets and costumes. You'd think you were watching Doctor Zhivago. It definitely has a Russian fairy-tale quality to it, especially with the wintry setting, and I think that actually contributes to the humor. It's as if the movie is trying to be an epic, but much like its bumbling heroes, it falls quite short of its romantic ideals and makes you laugh at it instead. Which is, in the case of this film, the point.