Sunday, July 13, 2008

Film #62: The Fearless Vampire Killers, or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck

Director Roman Polanski earned another entry in his fantastic streak of masterpieces with 1967's aberrant, charming spoof of vampire movies that has Polanski himself portraying the assistant to a Van Helsing-like vampire hunter (the great Irish actor Jack McGowran), both of whom are determined to crash a grand ball for the undead, where they plan to annihilate all attendees. Former fashion model Sharon Tate, captivating in one of her most prominent screen roles, plays a peasant girl with whom Polanski falls in love, but who gets kidnapped by the bloodsuckers.
Polanski met Tate while casting for the film (at first, he wanted soon-to-be Bond girl Jill St. John). He ended up marrying her shortly after the filming concluded. Of course, this romance ended in the most horrible way possible, with Tate and her friends Jay Sebring, Voltek
Frykowski and Abigail Folger being the victims of the Charles Manson Family's murderous 1969 rampage. I still feel an indelible sense of sadness from Polanski's work because of this event (he dedicated his most romantic movie, Tess, "to Sharon"). Tate, stunning to look at and intelligent as well, was a blossoming star of great talent; she's the only worthwhile aspect to Valley of the Dolls, the campy, garish 1968 adaptation of Jacqueline Susann's monster best- seller (unless you're a gay man, you cannot possibly enjoy Valley of the Dolls, except for Tate). Anyway, the pain that Polanski has still had to endure regarding this event in his life has to be unimaginable. I feel for him, truly.

Upon its first release, MGM cut almost 20 minutes from The Fearless Vampire Killers (originally titled Dance of the Vampires) and added an animated intro, both of which many feel detract from the movie's effectiveness. It's not Chinatown or Repulsion, I will grant, but Polanski's brilliance still shines through, as does his love for Sharon Tate. For this alone, it's a must-see. The gloriously velveteen costumes are from Sophie Devine, the music is from Christopher Komeda (who also did the gentle theme to Rosemary's Baby and even has a band named after him), the rich cinematography comes courtesy of Douglas Slocombe (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Lavender Hill Mob, Julia), and the clever script is by Polanski and longtime collaborator Gerard Brach (Tess, The Tenant, Jean De Florette, Bitter Moon).

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