Release Date(s)1967 (October 15, 2019)
Studio(s)MGM (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C
With three critically-acclaimed art house films under his belt, as well as a handful of short films, Roman Polanski took a major left turn with Dance of the Vampires, or as it was known in the US, The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me But My Teeth Are in Your Neck. This comedic take on gothic horror films features Polanski himself as Alfred, the loyal assistant to professor Abronius (Jack MacGowran), both of whom roam the Transylvanian countryside in search of vampires. Stopping off at a small village for the night, they encounter the beautiful Sarah (Sharon Tate), who is taken by Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) to his castle where he dwells with his hunchbacked assistant (Terry Downes) and his son Herbert (Iain Quarrier). Alfred fears for his life as he and Abronius attempt to save Sarah from the clutches of Count von Krolock before they’re all turned into snacks for him and his undead brethren.
The Fearless Vampire Killers is a knock-out when it comes to its visuals. It’s a beautiful film, reminiscent of Russian productions of the era, with snowy landscapes and horse-drawn buggies set against wilderness backdrops. It also takes obvious cues from Hammer horror productions with its cobweb-infested castles and fang-adorning creatures of the night. Performances are strong and the film is effective in both the comedy and horror departments—even the vampire teeth are more menacing than other films of the day. Lest we forget the presence of Sharon Tate, who is magnetically gorgeous (as well as the film’s greatest visual achievement), or the haunting musical score by Krzysztof Komeda (which might have had an influence on Wojciech Kilar’s magnificent score for Bram Stoker’s Dracula many years later). The film’s pace is also swift, flying by at a mere 108 minutes and never failing to be anything but entertaining.
Sadly, US audiences did not get a chance to see Polanski’s full version of the film upon its original release. MGM saw fit to change the title, cut twenty minutes out, add an animated prologue, and re-dub the actors. It was also marketed as a zany comedy in the vein of a Pink Panther film. It wasn’t until it was released on Laserdisc by MGM in the 1980s in its full form that many people finally got to the opportunity to see it properly. As such, it has become the standard presentation of the film and the re-cut version survives only in print form.
Warner Archive brings The Fearless Vampire Killers to Blu-ray for the first time utilizing a new 2K scan of the director’s cut of the film from an interpositive element in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Aside from soft transitions and low grade opticals, this is a sharp and richly-textured presentation. Fine detail is abundant, particularly once Count von Krolock’s castle has been reached where the color palette is often bold in many areas. The element is also clean and free of any leftover debris or density issues. Black levels are solid and grain is well managed, particularly for a film shot in Panavision from this era. Overall brightness and contrast levels are ideal and everything appears stable throughout. It’s definitely the most organic presentation the film has ever had on home video.
The audio is presented in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a relatively problem-free track with good dialogue reproduction and an excellent use of sound effects and score. The various elements are mixed together well without any distortion issues. Mild hiss is apparent, but there are no instances of leftover crackle or dropouts.
The following extras are also included:
- Vampires 101 (HD – 10:21)
- Alternate Main Title (HD – 4:01)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:14)
Vampires 101 is a tongue-in-cheek promotional piece in which a professor Cecil Havelock-Montague (Max Wall) educates us on vampires and shows us footage from the film. The Alternate Main Title is the aforementioned US animated prologue in which cartoon versions of Alfred and Abronius take on a green-faced vampire in a cemetery before the main credits begin to roll. The theatrical trailer showcases just how poorly the film was marketed.
A long, overdue addition to the high definition library, The Fearless Vampire Killers is presented with a solid presentation of the film that bests all previous home video releases. Only the inclusion of the alternate US version plus additional extras (including the featurette All Eyes on Sharon Tate, which was featured on the film’s original Laserdisc release, as well as the interviews with Polanski and producer Gene Gutowski from the French Blu-ray release) would make this better. For Polanski fans and horror comedy fans alike, it comes highly recommended.
– Tim Salmons