It doesn’t suck…
…but I have a feeling that my very good friend and long-time fellow film lover Chris is not going to be too happy with my review of Roman Polanski‘s Dance of the Vampires (1967) (which was its original, European title). The great director, apocryphally, still considers this as his favourite work which, considering this is the man who gave the world Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Chinatown (1974) and more recently The Ghost Writer (2010), is surprising, to say the very least.
I think the problem I have with the film is that it proves, unfortunately, just how difficult it is to actually combine comedy with horror, even though the two genres are in fact the most closely linked. Love both kinds of film though I do, I am hard pushed to think of more than two films that pulled off the trick of scaring you and making you laugh at the same time (they would be John Landis’s sublime An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Joe Dante’s not-quite-as-good-but-still-damn-fine The Howling (1981)) and, I am sorry, but Polanski’s film simply does not manage it.
To be fair, humour does tend to date rather quickly and, while the tale of noted vampire scholar Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his dim-witted and lovelorn (for Sharon Tate, and who wouldn’t be?) assistant Alfred (Polanski) falling prey to Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) and his band of vamps was probably charming to its contemporary audiences, the ‘jokes’, such as they are, now seem to involve little more than Abronsius and Alfred falling over a lot and saying stupid things.
Don’t ge me wrong – there is still much to admire in Polanski’s film, but only when he plays it straight – Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography is nothing short of breathtakingly beautiful and, when writers Polanski and Gérard Brach actually get around to paying homage to horror conventions, instead of mocking them, there are key set-pieces that actually work very well, such as the hapless pair finding themselves at the eponymous ball with many vampires, then alone when they see themselves in the mirror, and Mayne gives the impression that he might well have been among the very best ‘Draculas’, if he had ever been given the chance to play it straight.
No matter – I hope this has not emerged as a slamming, as this is not my intention, but I remain unconvinced that The Fearless Vampire Killers can now be viewed as being anything more than a one-off mixed-genre curiousity.