July 9, 2005

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
Grade: 55/100

Director: Roman Polanski
Stars: Jack MacGowran, Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate

What it's about. This horror/comedy is set in late 19th century Europe. Elderly vampire hunter Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his young and dorky assistant Alfred (Roman Polanksi) chase aristocratic vampire von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne), who has kidnapped Alfred's dimwitted new girlfriend Sarah (Sharon Tate).

How I felt about it. In between critical and commercial success with the horror films Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary's Baby (1968), Roman Polanski added a comic twist, with decent but lesser results. Of course, the film is best known today for the presence of Sharon Tate, Polanski's real life hottie wife, and soon a random victim of Charles Manson's murderous anarchists. Although second billed, her role is largely supportive.

How others will see it. Plenty of physical and bawdy comedy, and the sets and costumes are attractive. There's some suspense as well. The title characters aren't really so fearless, and they're not quite as clever as their learned background implies. Fortunately, the vampires also make their share of mistakes, so the terms are equal after all.

This is one classic film that will appeal to the typical movie fan. It seems as fresh today as when it was made, and the presence of familiar stars actually works in its favor, since it doesn't date the film.

How I felt about it, Part Two. Nonetheless, while the elements of movie greatness are present, they don't completely gel. The professor is both observant and clueless, both prepared and careless. For example, he never has satisfactory blankets or coats to keep himself and other sleigh passengers from freezing. He always has an inspired plan, and sometimes it actually works, but just as often, it merely gets him into deeper trouble.

If the crafty and daft professor appears to play similar but separate characters, it's even worse for the only other major role, that of Alfred. Played by the director himself, he is courageous enough to follow the Igor knockoff, at least until he devours a wolf, but he's cowardly enough not to be able to kill a pair of momentarily helpless but clearly threatening vampires when he has the opportunity, even though it improves the odds that his heartthrob Sarah will be freed.

Perhaps the real problem with The Fearless Vampire Killers isn't with the characters, but the comedy. Some scenes are unmemorable, such as a brief skiing skit before reaching the Count's castle, and others are out of character, such as Abronsius breaking off from the heat of a vampire hunt to drink wine spilling from a barrel. The quick laugh comes at the expense of the story, and that's rarely a good sign.