The Fearless Vampire Killers

Movie Information

The Fearless Vampire Killers, part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World, will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, June 5, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.
Genre: Horror/Comedy
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Jack MacGowran, Roman Polanski, Alfie Bass, Sharon Tate, Ferdy Mayne, Iain Quarrier
Rated: NR

There are times when I think Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) is the filmmaker’s finest work. Certainly, with the exception of Tess (1979), it is his most stunningly beautiful film—a moon-drenched eastern European fairy tale perfectly rendered onto film. (And I doubt that it’s coincidental that Alfie Bass’ character is named Shagall or that he resembles Marc Chagall’s painting “The Green Violinist.”) The film follows the adventures of a dotty vampire hunter (Jack MacGowran) and his sole faithful disciple (Polanski) on their trek into Transylvania to “rid the world of vampires.” Perhaps the greatest thing about Polanski’s film is that it’s effective as both horror and comedy.

Comedy has been mixed with horror since the very beginning of horror, but rarely has it been so deftly blended as it is here. Polanski instinctively knows when to guy the material and when to play it straight—and can do so “in the twinkling of an eye,” to borrow a phrase from MacGowran’s vampire hunter. On some occasions, Polanski even manages to do both at once. The film’s climactic set piece—an elaborate dress ball (the European title of the film is Dance of the Vampires)—blends both comedy and horror, and then tops it off with genuine suspense. Only a true master could do that.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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2 thoughts on “The Fearless Vampire Killers

  1. John Stell

    This is one of the earliest horror-viewing memories I have. The ending is especially haunting: even my 6 or 7 year old mind understood what the professor had done. And the music score is terrific.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I’ll be curious to see how well this is attended. I ran into someone last night at the Carolina Cinema re-opening party who was very excited by the prospect of going to see it.

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