Halloween recommendations: Fearless Vampire Killers

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Fearless Vampire Killers

Yes, there were gay vampires before Alyson Hannigan made her bloody mind up in Buffy. Well, one, anyway, in Roman Polanski’s spoof of the genre in The Fearless Vampire Hunters, known for many years by its alternate (and snazzier) European title Dance Of The Vampires.

Polanski himself takes the lead-role alongside the eccentric Jack McGowran as disciple-and-master vampire slayers at large in Winter-bound transylvania, hoping to finally ‘get one’. The plot is fairly simple: they arrive at a typical Universal studios-type peasant village in the Carpathian mountains and start dropping hints to the landlord and customers as to their quarry, but they get nowhere despite the minor clue that the walls of their inn are wraithed in garlic.

After a lot of Richard-Lester-like arsing around and broad visual comedy, a vampire finally attacks the inn’s landlord and kidnaps his servant-girl (played by Polanski’s lover, Sharon Tate, who very shortly afterward was notoriously and viciously murdered by the Manson ‘family’). Comedy stalwart Alfie Bass plays the Jewish landlord who, after his conversion to a vampire, is immune to crosses – “Oy! Have you got the wrong vampire!”.s

Polanski’s naïve apprentice is in love with the kidnapped girl and drags the bumbling Van-Helsing-like McGowran to the vampire lair in a truly impressive castle higher up in the mountains, in a very ill-thought-out rescue attempt, there to face the vampire boss (Ferdy Mayne in a sinister turn that’s wasted in a spoof)and his confused progeny…

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Actually it’s a terrible shame that this is a comedy and not a ‘straight’ (or just campy)vampire film, since it has the lushest and most atmospheric production design of any of the numerous vampire movies of the 1960s. As Renny Harlin can tell you, shooting snow is no picnic, yet Polanski has gone out of his way to make life difficult for himself by setting the film in a bleak but glistening eastern-european Winter, also elaborately reconstructed for studio scenes and inserts; you can almost feel the bleak winds ruffling Polanski’s hair as he seeks to enter the castle over the perilous and icy rooves of the battlements.

The interior scenes are equally striking, with the kind of vast and luxurious expanse that neither Roger Corman, Amicus nor Hammer were ever able to achieve with their production-line approach to genre horror.

In one ingenious and astonishingly well-done scene, our heroes are revealed to their enemies in front of a huge mirror in the ball-room where the vampires are dancing. In the room itself, a crowd – in the mirror, just a puzzled and fearful Polanski and McGowran. It is one of the most striking pieces of cinematography in horror history.

In the late 90s the film was adapted into a theatrical musical, at one point featuring Michael Crawford.

Though FVK isn’t all that funny for most of its runtime, it’s recommended for its ambience and for moments of genuine fear and tension that have rarely (Return Of The Living Dead, Shaun Of The Dead)been successfully pulled off in spoofs and horror-comedies.