A forerunner of parodies that also take its jokes’ influences seriously, Roman Polanski’s 1966 film “The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck” is one of the best “horror” pictures you have never seen. Now available on DVD from Warner Brothers, “The Fearless Vampire Killers” tells the story of Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his assistant Alfred (Roman Polanski) who are on the hunt for vampires in a wintry Eastern European countryside. They lodge at an inn run by Shagal (Alfie Bass) and inhabited by an assortment of eccentric characters. Soon after they arrive, Professor Abronsius observes signs—like strategically placed garlic—that confirm the existence of vampires; and Alfred becomes enamored with Sarah (Sharon Tate), Shagal’s beautifully innocent daughter.
Unfortunately, before Alfred can spend quality time with the lady, the neighborhood blood-sucker spirits her away to his castle. The Professor and the assistant give chase and upon entering the stone-walled residence they pretend they’re only passing through the area. The vampire introduces himself as Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne). Whether or not he and his son Herbert (Iain Quarrier) have plans to feast on their guests is not known because after showing them to their rooms, Abronsius and Alfred take to exploring the castle and locating their hosts’ coffin chamber. Before the next night is over, Professor and assistant experience a few frights (like an overfriendly Herbert), ingeniously improvise escape routes (one including a small cannon), and they do it all in a jubilant manner.
Polanski made “The Fearless Vampire Killers” before he did “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), and while the former is definitely more light-hearted than the latter, there is an eeriness to both that is attributable to the director’s method of movie-making magic. From the dialogue to the costume and make-up to the slapstick stunts, the blending of spooks and comedy is balanced with a precision that causes you to wonder if the film is funny with scares, or the other way around. No doubt an inspiration for “Young Frankenstein” (Mel Brooks, 1974), “The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck” convinces that there is no either or here. It is funny and scary.