The Bloodsuckers Binge: a series of reviews on vampire movies in all incarnations as I look for, and find, any vampire movie I can get my grubby little hands on. The classics, the culty, the really good, the really old and inevitably: movies that suck!
Roman Polanski, the director and co-writer of Fearless Vampire Killers (FVK), is currently best known for his brilliant movies Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby and The Pianist, rather than the accusations of statutory rape (making it impossible for him to visit the USA, because he risks being arrested) and his ill fated marriage to Sharon Tate, who was pregnant when she was brutally murdered by members of the Manson-family. At the time of FVK Polanski (who also stars) was a Hollywood socialite on his way up, before tragedy struck and before his reputation became questionable. So what we have here is “old” hip Polanski, not “middle-bit” disgraced or “new” redeemed (“Pianist”) Polanski.
In FVK a slightly insane researcher of vampirism (Jack MacGowran) and his mousy assistant (Polanski) go in search of vampires, and stumble upon Count Von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne). The count has kidnapped Sarah (Sharon Tate), the innkeepers’ beautiful daughter and our unlikely heroes (one of whom is rather smitten by now) must rescue her.
FVK was made in 1967 and it is clear from the start, where Polanski is having a bit of fun with the MGM logo, that this is going to be a spoof. A rather outdated one, in fact. Polanski follows the Benny Hill School of comedy; there is a full chorus of droll townsfolk, a lecherous innkeeper and his battle axe wife, rambunctious maidens having baths or being spanked and a lot of slapstick. All of these elements have been repeated many times since, and therefore look stale and unoriginal when viewing FVK with our current day eyes. But in spite of its rather “vintage” feel, FVK is still well worth a look. In fact, I found it quite charming.
There is no argument that Polanski is using the aforementioned elements to bring us a satire, spoofing more than just the vampire genre, and taking the piss about his Jewish roots while he’s at it. Some of this is still quite good. Polanski and his actors manage to ad-lib around what are obviously things going wrong (hairpieces coming of, butter falling of a knife, doors falling apart) to charming effect. I particularly liked the fact that dialogue is sparse throughout the movie. A lot of the acting is physical (not just the slapstick and the comedy), and while Polanski is no great actor, the people around him are hamming it up with obvious delight.
The makeup effects are funny too. Notice the awful buckteeth on the (obligatory) hunchback, the bad fake noses, the blood that is too red, the wolves that look like Rottweiler dogs, and snow that is obviously spray can stuff. Even back in the day these things must have looked dodgy at best. It’s hard to believe that a director of Polanski’s genius (although somewhat of a budding genius at this stage of his career) did not put (most of) these things in deliberately. Particularly since some of the artwork and set dressing (like the amazing paintings in the Castle gallery) are very beautiful. There is a sense of purpose to FVK, which applies to the serious as well as the ridiculous.
Further more Polanski adds a large amount of sexual innuendo, which is to be expected but also some decidedly homo-erotic overtones, which is unusual for the era and actually quite brave. He changes shooting speed to increase the slapstick effects and enhances or drains the colours at will, to suit the atmosphere he wants to achieve. Overall FVK is clearly made by a director who knows what he’s doing. And that makes the silliness forgivable and the movie watchable. Even now.
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