31 Days of Horror: ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ is one of the most aesthetically sumptuous horror comedies around

The Fearless Vampire Killers
Written by Gérard Brach and Roman Polanski
Directed by Roman Polanski
USA/UK, 1967

Roman Polanski’s comedy was his first foray into both Hollywood and colour filmmaking, and, whether intentional or not, feels like a deliberate parody of the Hammer studio’s brand of gothic horror. Polanski’s film has similarly striking castle locales, but the general aesthetic here excels beyond imitation and is among the most beautiful in both horror and comedy cinema. Taking place in a snowbound Transylvania, the lavish studio sets and location shots from the Alps combine to create a gorgeous widescreen film that feels like a winter wonderland; a snow globe environment host to production and costume designs fit for a period epic.

The production of The Fearless Vampire Killers was also where Polanski met his doomed love Sharon Tate. Though the director himself and Jack MacGowran are the stars, it is Tate who shines brightest in the film, despite prolonged absences from the narrative due to being a captured damsel in distress. A luminous presence, many of her scenes with her future husband are achingly tender, the highlights of the film’s forays into dreamlike, romantic leanings. Special mention must also be made of Krzysztof Komeda’s haunting score, one led by choral vocals. It is especially effective in scenes like Tate’s bath-set capture by the lead vampire.

This is a film of hugely memorable scenes and moments, like those previously cited and a mass ballroom dance of the walking dead. Unfortunately, as terrific as the aesthetic consistently is, the film as a whole isn’t entirely successful. Dabbling in broader humour than normally found in most of his career, the film is very rarely amusing and, bar a reveal in the surprisingly cynical ending, never spooky or unsettling when it occasionally tries out strict horror. Though only around one hundred minutes in length, the film is an unfortunately bloated-feeling slog, alternating between that dreamy, intoxicating atmosphere and tedious bumbling by its ineffective vampire hunters. Tate and the aesthetic are what will stick in the mind, but the framework around them is not so suited to revisiting.

Josh Slater-Williams

By Josh Slater-Williams

Based in Glasgow, Scotland, Josh is a freelance writer and a passionate cinephile with interests in works from all eras, countries of origin and genres. In addition to Sound on Sight, Josh is also a regular contributor to Scottish culture magazine The Skinny and his own blog Read Write Hand. His favourite directors include Hayao Miyazaki, Wong Kar Wai, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Powell, Ingmar Bergman, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Terrence Malick and Richard Linklater.

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3 Responses to 31 Days of Horror: ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ is one of the most aesthetically sumptuous horror comedies around

  1. Boris Day November 10, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    Thanks for telling me, Josh. I have watched this film probably around eight times in my life and now I’ve found out I’ve done it all wrong.

    Reply
    • Josh Slater-Williams November 11, 2012 at 9:21 pm

      I was merely expressing my experience of rewatching the film, but alright.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: The Fearless Vampire Killers (Roman Polanski, 1967) « Read Write Hand

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