The Fearless Vampire Killers

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The Fearless Vampire Killers
Fearlessvampirekillersposter.jpg
Directed by Roman Polanski
Produced by Gene Gutowski
Written by Roman Polanski
Gérard Brach
Starring Jack MacGowran,
Roman Polanski,
Sharon Tate,
Ferdy Mayne
Narrated by Ferdy Mayne
Music by Krzysztof Komeda
Cinematography Douglas Slocombe
Edited by Alastair McIntyre
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates February, 1967 (UK)
November 13, 1967 (U.S.)
Running time 108 min (director's cut)
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English

The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck (shortened to The Fearless Vampire Killers; originally released in the UK as Dance of the Vampires) is a 1967 comedy horror film directed by Roman Polanski, written by Gérard Brach and Polanski, produced by Gene Gutowski and co-starring Polanski with future wife Sharon Tate. It has been produced as a musical named Dance of the Vampires.

Roman Polanski's gentle horror comedy was considered a foolish misfire in the United States, after being a great success in Europe under its original intended title Dance of the Vampires. [1] For the U.S. release, MGM used its final cut authority to recut the film and alter the soundtrack, adding an animated prologue and cutting an estimated eleven or twelve minutes out of the picture. [2] Despite the studio beginning to distribute Polanski's original European cut to revival theaters in 1979, the film was still regarded as an underrated restoration. [3] People who saw the U.S. re-release did not know about the edits MGM had made in 1967, and many of those who had seen that version of the film did not see the film again in 1979. [4]

Plot[edit]

The film is set in the heart of Transylvania and the story appears to take place sometime during the mid-19th Century. Professor Abronsius, formerly of the University of Königsberg and his apprentice Alfred are on the hunt for vampires. Abronsius is old and withering and barely able to survive the cold ride through the wintry forests, while Alfred is bumbling and introverted. The two hunters come to a small Eastern European town seemingly at the end of a long search for signs of vampires. The two stay at a local inn full of angst-ridden townspeople who perform strange rituals to fend off an unseen evil.

Whilst staying at the inn, Alfred develops a fondness for Sarah, the daughter of the innkeeper Yoine Shagal. Alfred witnesses Sarah being kidnapped by the local vampire lord Count von Krolock. Upon being told of their daughter's kidnapping, Shagal attempts to rescue her but doesn't get very far before he's captured, drained of his blood and vampirised. Abronsius and Alfred begin pursuing the kidnapper soon after following the snow trail, which leads them to Krolock's ominous castle in the snow-blanketed hills nearby. They break into the castle but are trapped by the Count's hunchback servant, Koukol. They are taken to see the count, who affects an air of aristocratic dignity whilst questioning Abronsius about why he has come to the castle. They also encounter the Count's son, the foppish (and homosexual) Herbert. Meanwhile, Shagal no longer caring about his daughter's fate, sets on his plan to turn Magda, the tavern's beautiful maidservant and the object of his lust while he was still human, into his vampire bride.

Despite misgivings, Abronsius and Alfred accept the Count's invitation to stay in his ramshackle Gothic castle, where Alfred spends the night fitfully. The next morning, Abronsius plans to find the castle crypt and kill the Count, seemingly forgetting about the fate of Sarah. The crypt is guarded by the hunchback, so after some wandering they climb in through a roof window. However, Abronsius gets stuck in the window; and it is up to Alfred to kill the Count, which he feels unable to do. He has to go back outside to free Abronsius but on the way he comes upon Sarah having a bath in her room. She seems oblivious to her danger when he pleads for her to come away with him and reveals that a ball is to take place this very night. After briefly taking his eyes off her, Alfred turns to find Sarah has vanished into thin air.

After freeing Abronsius, who is half frozen, they re-enter the castle. Alfred again seeks Sarah but meets Herbert instead, who first attempts to seduce him and then after Alfred realises that Herbert's reflection does not show in the mirror, reveals his vampire nature and attempts to bite him. Abronsius and Alfred flee from Herbert through a dark stairway to safety, only to be trapped behind a locked door in a turret. As night is falling, they become horrified witnesses as the gravestones below open up to reveal a huge number of vampires at the castle, who hibernate and meet once a year only to feast upon any captives the Count has provided for them. The Count appears, mocking them and tells them their fate is sealed. He leaves them to attend a dance, where Sarah will be presented as the next vampire victim.

However, the hunters escape by firing a cannon at the door by substituting steam pressure for gunpowder, and come to the dance in disguise, where they grab Sarah and flee. Escaping by horse carriage, they are now unaware that it is too late for Sarah, who awakens in mid-flight as a vampire and bites Alfred, thus allowing vampires to be released throughout the world.

Cast[edit]

Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski.

Production[edit]

Coming straight on the heels of Polanski's international success with Repulsion, the film was mounted on a lavish scale - color cinematography, huge sets in England, location filming in the Alps, elaborate costumes and choreography suitable for a period epic. Previously accustomed only to extremely low budgets, Polanski chose some of the finest English cinema craft artists to work on the film: cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, production designer Wilfrid Shingleton. Polanski engaged noted choreographer Tutte Lemkow, who played the titular musician in Fiddler on the Roof, for the film's climactic danse macabre minuet.

During filming the director decided to switch formats to anamorphic while filming on location. Flat scenes already filmed were optically converted to match.

The cinematography by Douglas Slocombe has a surreal, Daliesque quality, notable in its lighting and visual imagery. The outdoor sequences in the snow and the visuals inside the inn, the castle and the minuet scene are filmed to create a dreamlike image. The production design by Wilfrid Shingleton contributes to the captivating visual impression.

In his autobiography, Roman Polanski discusses some of the difficulties in filming The Fearless Vampire Killers: "Our first month's outdoor filming became a series of ingenious improvisations, mainly because the last-minute switch from one location (Austria) to another (Urtijëi, an Italian ski resort in the Dolomites) had left us so little time to revise our shooting schedules. The fact that we were filming in Italy entailed the employment of a certain number of Italian technicians and that, in turn bred some international friction. Gene Gutowski (the film's European producer) rightly suspected that the Italians were robbing us blind."[5]

Despite numerous production headaches, Polanski is said to have enjoyed making the film. Over the years, when Roman Polanski was asked to name the film he was happiest with, his answer was surprising:The Fearless Vampire Killers. “The film reminds me of the happiest time of my life,” he told Le Nouvel Observateur in 1984. Polanski fell in love with actress Sharon Tate while filming on a soundstage in England and on location in the Italian Alps. [6] His cinematographer, Douglas Slocombe was quoted by Ivan Butler in his book, The Cinema of Roman Polanski, as saying "I think he (Roman) put more of himself into Dance of the Vampires than into any other film. It brought to light the fairy-tale interest that he has. One was conscious all along when making the picture of a Central European background to the story. Very few of the crew could see anything in it - they thought it old-fashioned nonsense. But I could see this background....I have a French background myself and could sense the Central European atmosphere that surrounds it. The figure of Alfred is very much like Roman himself - a slight figure, young and a little defenseless - a touch of Kafka. It is very much a personal statement of his own humour as he used to chuckle all the way through the scenes."[5]

When the film was first released in the United States, MGM wanted to market it as a farce, and gave it the title The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck.[7] The director was less than pleased. Over the years it has been reported in most sources that the film's executive producer Martin Ransohoff cut Dance of the Vampires for the American release.[7][8] In fact, MGM Supervising Editor Margaret Booth and Head of Theatrical Post Production Merle Chamberlain made the cuts, and remixed the film in an attempt to make it 'kooky and cartoony.'[9]

This film was the source material for the European stage musical Tanz der Vampire. It is peppered with numerous references to King Richard III of England, who even appears in the ball scene.

Style and themes[edit]

Polanski takes the traditional vampire myth and spins some hilarious new variations on it, like his introduction of both a Jewish vampire (he's immune to the sign of the cross) and a homosexual bloodsucker into the plot. Most striking of all is the way Polanski is able to transition smoothly from knockabout slapstick sequences to scenes that are genuinely dark and disturbing, like von Krolock's descent through the snow-covered skylight as Sarah takes her bath. [10]

The Fearless Vampire Killers was Polanski's first feature to be photographed in color using a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Polanski said his intention was to create a kind of cinematic fairy tale, a fantasy adventure. “I wanted to tell a romantic story that was funny and frightening at the same time,” he told Positif in 1969. [11] The film is also notable in that it features Polanski's love of winter sports, particularly skiing.

The snow that blankets everything imbues each frame with a sinister, fairy tale quality. [12] These sensations are too bleak for comedy, but they play nicely into the horror elements. [13] Furthermore, the wintry setting helps to carry out the themes of isolation that Polanski explores throughout his career -- most notably in Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby, where the protagonists are alone, but also completely surrounded by destructive, evil forces. [14]

Polanski also liked the film because it was unpretentious. He told Les Cahiers du cinéma in 1969, “As a filmmaker who wants to show something interesting or new cinematically speaking, I made Cul-de-sac. But for those people who want to go to the cinema for two hours and have a good time, I made The Fearless Vampire Killers.” [15]

The movie is fall-down beautiful. It looks like a fairy tale, except with real snow that can freeze people to a real death. [16] The lovely greeting-card forests are filled with wolves. The vampires live frozen in their crypts, and the warm-blooded human characters are at a real disadvantage. [17] Snow beautifies frightening scenes, like the shower of snowflakes over Sarah's empty bathtub with its telltale bloodstain. [18] Alfred tries to escape through one of those tiny castle windows, and the camera trucks in to frame a perfectly beautiful snow vista -- beautiful, but forbidding. [19] The minuet ball is one of the best-filmed scenes of its kind, and concludes in an almost perfect mirror-illusion trick. That tour-de-force wouldn't be impressive at all in a new movie, which would most certainly use CG imagery. [20]

Animated opening sequence[edit]

The version of the film that was chopped by MGM against Polanski's wishes was also saddled by the studio with a somewhat cute but overall fairly lame cartoon prologue, which has since been removed in the restored director's cut of the film and from the DVD version. The cartoon sequence begins on a sunny day with a bird minding his own business when the sun behind him sinks and the crescent moon rises in its place, starting night. The bird becomes alarmed and speeds way. Zooming out reveals the setting of a graveyard. Professor Abronsius and Alfred bump into each other, they shake hands and a green vampire pops out from a grave behind them and with each successful scare, the vampire laughs as the camera zooms in on him. A bag falls from the sky, Abronsius reaches in and takes out a box containing garlic. He takes out the garlic and along with Alfred, eats it. They sneak up to the vampire (who had no idea where they are), tap his shoulder and breathe garlic breath on him causing him to shrink and run off. The bag drops to them again and Alfred takes out a gold crucifix and gives it to Abronsius. They sneak up on the now plugged-nose vampire, show him the crucifix, and again he shrinks and runs off. He hides behind the tree and tries to scare them, but the sun replaces the moon, signaling the vampire to run and Abronsius and Alfred chase him to a coffin. The bag appears for the final time and Abronsius takes a mallet and a wooden stake. He (with the Alfred's help) kills the vampire, then places the lid on the coffin. In the pitch-black backdrop Professor Abronsius and Alfred congratulate each other until the MGM logo appears, startling them. The lion in the logo roars as its fangs grow longer. Frightened Abronsius and Alfred run away.

MGM lion logo and titles[edit]

Not even the famous MGM logo can escape the satirical nature of this film, as the venerable Leo the lion amusingly turns into a fanged bald-headed green ghoul with beady eyes (in the restored director's cut version), and a drop of blood dribbles from its fangs into the marvelous opening credits that follow, while Christopher (Krzysztof) Komeda's main title music and chorus ominously portends of things to come.

The titles for The Fearless Vampire Killers were designed by one of the most important French creators of the last decades, André François. [21] François was one of the first title designers to play with the logo of a major studio. [22]

This title sequence begins in a wonderfully funny and unexpected way, with the MGM lion turning into a vampire. [23] The tone is set – we are watching a comedy. But playing with a major studio's logo was considered very unusual at the time. [24] For some movie directors it was a way to show their independence from the studios they worked with and to establish themselves as authors, though the goal here was mainly to have fun. [25]

André François makes an amazingly fluid transition between the logo, the titles and the movie. [26] A drop of blood is used to link all the elements of the title sequence. It drips down from the vampire’s fang and jumps from word to word. The blue background constitutes the second element in the transition. [27] The wonderful landscape at the end of the sequence, when the movie starts, are matte paintings made by Doug Ferris and Peter Melrose. [28]

André François painted the credits himself. [29] They subtly reference horror movie titles. [30] He animated the drop of blood to create a humoristic effect and to announce the cartoon spirit of many of the scenes. [31] An additional anecdote sets the mood – one of the technicians is credited for the fangs. His name is “Dr. Ludwig von Krankheit,” which is German for “illness.” The entire credit sequence galvanizes the atmosphere. [32]

Even the familiar "all persons fictitious" disclaimer in the Fearless Vampire Killers opening credits contains an inside joke as it reads: “The events, characters, firms and vampires depicted in this photoplay are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons living or dead or to actual events is entirely coincidental." [33]

Roman Polanski is not listed as an actor in the opening credits, but his name appears as an actor in the closing credits. [34]

Soundtrack[edit]

The score was provided by Krzysztof Komeda, who also scored Rosemary's Baby.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Bad Brains song "F.V.K." on their 1983 album Rock for Light is named in reference to this movie.
  • A parody of the Dance of the Vampires ballroom scene is featured in the German comedy film Die Einsteiger starring Thomas Gottschalk and Mike Krüger.[35]
  • The Skinny Puppy song "Rivers" features numerous dialogue clips from the movie.
  • The 2006 Swedish vampire film Frostbite was inspired by "Fearless Vampire Killers" in its comical approach to the vampire mythos as well as its dark and unexpected ending.
  • In 2008, London alternative rock band Fearless Vampire Killers named themselves after the film.
  • The Doom metal band Pagan Altar recorded a song titled Dance of the Vampires in 2011, using footage from the 1967 movie in an accompanying promotional video clip.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ DVD Savant – Reviewed by Glenn Erickson. http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s1400fear.html Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  2. ^ DVD Savant – Reviewed by Glenn Erickson. http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s1400fear.html Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  3. ^ DVD Savant – Reviewed by Glenn Erickson. http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s1400fear.html Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  4. ^ DVD Savant – Reviewed by Glenn Erickson. http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s1400fear.html Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  5. ^ a b Hallenbeck 2009: 83
  6. ^ Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers, a Halloween Treat. http://www.openculture.com/2011/10/roman_polanskis_ithe_fearless_vampire_killersi_a_halloween_treat_.html Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  7. ^ a b Hallenbeck 2009: 84.
  8. ^ Polanski himself also seems to report this version of events in an interview surrounding the creation of the musical of the same name.
  9. ^ DVD Savant; "MGM's head negative cutter from the time gave Savant the straight story on the whole debacle..."
  10. ^ TCMDb Archive Materials – Article by Jeff Stafford. http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/74705/The-Fearless-Vampire-Killers-or-Pardon-Me-but-Your-Teeth-Are-in-My-Neck/articles.html Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  11. ^ Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers, a Halloween Treat. http://www.openculture.com/2011/10/roman_polanskis_ithe_fearless_vampire_killersi_a_halloween_treat_.html Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  12. ^ The Fearless Vampire Killers Review. By Nate Yapp. http://classic-horror.com/reviews/fearless_vampire_killers_1967 Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  13. ^ The Fearless Vampire Killers Review. By Nate Yapp. http://classic-horror.com/reviews/fearless_vampire_killers_1967 Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  14. ^ The Fearless Vampire Killers Review. By Nate Yapp. http://classic-horror.com/reviews/fearless_vampire_killers_1967 Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  15. ^ Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers, a Halloween Treat. http://www.openculture.com/2011/10/roman_polanskis_ithe_fearless_vampire_killersi_a_halloween_treat_.html Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  16. ^ DVD Savant – Reviewed by Glenn Erickson. http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s1400fear.html Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  17. ^ DVD Savant – Reviewed by Glenn Erickson. http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s1400fear.html Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  18. ^ DVD Savant – Reviewed by Glenn Erickson. http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s1400fear.html Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  19. ^ DVD Savant – Reviewed by Glenn Erickson. http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s1400fear.html Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  20. ^ DVD Savant – Reviewed by Glenn Erickson. http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s1400fear.html Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  21. ^ Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Showcasing the Very Best in Title Design. http://www.watchthetitles.com/articles/00205-The_Fearless_Vampire_Killers Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  22. ^ Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Showcasing the Very Best in Title Design. http://www.watchthetitles.com/articles/00205-The_Fearless_Vampire_Killers Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  23. ^ Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Showcasing the Very Best in Title Design. http://www.watchthetitles.com/articles/00205-The_Fearless_Vampire_Killers Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  24. ^ Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Showcasing the Very Best in Title Design. http://www.watchthetitles.com/articles/00205-The_Fearless_Vampire_Killers Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  25. ^ Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Showcasing the Very Best in Title Design. http://www.watchthetitles.com/articles/00205-The_Fearless_Vampire_Killers Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  26. ^ Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Showcasing the Very Best in Title Design. http://www.watchthetitles.com/articles/00205-The_Fearless_Vampire_Killers Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  27. ^ Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Showcasing the Very Best in Title Design. http://www.watchthetitles.com/articles/00205-The_Fearless_Vampire_Killers Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  28. ^ Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Showcasing the Very Best in Title Design. http://www.watchthetitles.com/articles/00205-The_Fearless_Vampire_Killers Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  29. ^ Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Showcasing the Very Best in Title Design. http://www.watchthetitles.com/articles/00205-The_Fearless_Vampire_Killers Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  30. ^ Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Showcasing the Very Best in Title Design. http://www.watchthetitles.com/articles/00205-The_Fearless_Vampire_Killers Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  31. ^ Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Showcasing the Very Best in Title Design. http://www.watchthetitles.com/articles/00205-The_Fearless_Vampire_Killers Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  32. ^ Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Showcasing the Very Best in Title Design. http://www.watchthetitles.com/articles/00205-The_Fearless_Vampire_Killers Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  33. ^ The Fearless Vampire Killers (Motion picture) credits: Polanski, Roman
  34. ^ The Fearless Vampire Killers (Motion picture) credits: Polanski, Roman
  35. ^ Vampireworld.com Film Pages: "Die Einsteiger" (German). Retrieved December 27, 2013.

References[edit]

External links[edit]