The Fearless Vampire Killers (Roman Polanski / United Kingdom, 1967):
(Dance of the Vampires; The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck)

The toothy grin from Roman Polanski’s early short is here a fanged one, the auteur himself peeps through the keyhole and pulls an "eek!" face for the camera. A moonstruck note kicks off the lustrous caricature of Hammer frights, the sleigh carrying the batty scholar (Jack MacGowran) and his timorous assistant (Polanski) into Transylvania comes equipped with wolves literally snapping at their heels. (A later joke has one of the lupine beasts chased off by a vexed hunchback, who returns with blood on his gnarled choppers.) A Jewish lecher (Alfie Bass) runs the local inn, his young daughter (Sharon Tate) might be Dumas’ Gregoriska—she medicates her boredom with warm baths until she’s abducted by Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne), who descends in a flurry of snowflakes and leaves a gory mark on the foam à la Repulsion. Off to the tenebrous manor, then: "A castle without a crypt is like a unicorn without a horn!" Spoofs are a serious matter: The famous gag of the undead Tevye laughingly shrugging at a crucifix is a signature moment, the lore of old avails the heroes no more in the face of proliferating terror. (Heroism is itself a pallid notion, the Professor’s "sacred mission" is easily sidetracked by telescopes and libraries while the abstracted romanticism of his sidekick becomes catnip for the Count’s swishy son.) Polanski’s meticulous study of silent comedy even encompasses shifting skin colors (a Bruegel winter turns it blue, haughty vampires turn it white), patiently building to the harpsichord tinkling of a beautifully deadpan Danse Macabre. The bludgeoning sausage and the toboggan-coffin, an addled Einstein unconsciously kindling the apocalypse, the trembling hand holding the mallet and stake. "Dear boy, all these signs! All these signs!" Rosemary’s Baby is an urbane refinement, Blood for Dracula a salacious riposte. With Jessie Robins, Iain Quarrier, and Fiona Lewis.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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