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Film / The Fearless Vampire Killers

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"Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire!"
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The Fearless Vampire Killers, or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck (universally known as Dance of the Vampires outside of the U.S. except for Italy, where it's known as Per Favore, Non Mordermi Sul Collo) is a 1967 horror comedy film from director Roman Polanski (who also starred and cowrote the screenplay), which gives a good-natured ribbing to the vampire genre. It is today perhaps best known as the inspiration for Tanz Der Vampire, a Screen-to-Stage Adaptation that is extremely popular in Europe, as well as for being the film which introduced Polanski to his future wife, Sharon Tate.

Sometime in the 19th century, eminent (in his own mind, at least) vampire expert Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his bumbling young assistant Alfred (Polanski) arrive at a small Transylvanian village in the dead of winter, seeking to track down and kill a nest of vampires that they believe are lurking nearby. Stopping to rest at a local inn, they become convinced that they are on the right track, both by the presence of garlic adorning every available surface, and by the reluctance of the innkeeper Shagal (Alfie Bass) and the rest of the locals to discuss the whereabouts of the nearby castle.

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As Professor Abronsius spends his days surreptitiously searching for clues, Alfred meets and falls head-over-heels for Shagal's beautiful daughter Sarah (Tate). He is not the only one who notices her, however, and soon the lord of the local vampire coven, the elegant Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne), abducts her to his castle. When Shagal attempts to keep the interlopers out of the matter and rescue his daughter himself, he is quickly turned into a vampire himself. It therefore falls to our two heroes to travel to Castle von Krolock, rescue the fair Sarah, and put the curse of the undead to rest once and for all.


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Provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Alfred sees Herbert, the Count's son, this way.
  • Absent-Minded Professor: Abronsius is easily distracted by books, bats, and discoursing on how great a scholar he is.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of Gothic Horror and vampire movies, particularly those in the Hammer Horror tradition.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Sarah transforms into a vampire at the end and also infect Alfred.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Shagal appears to be the only "commoner" vampire.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Unintentionally. Von Krolock only meant to have Sarah join his legion of undead within the castle, meaning she would just be another victim. He succeeds on that front but ultimately loses Sarah when Alfred and Abronsius escape. However, that only means the curse of vampirism has spread beyond his castle, which wasn't his intention.
  • The Blind Leading the Blind: Alfred hangs on Abronsius's every word, and doesn't seem to realize that he's more than a bit incompetent.
  • Bookends: The film opens and closes with a shot of our vampire hunters sleigh-riding across the snowy Carpathian Mountains.
  • Breaking and Bloodsucking: Von Krolock captures Sarah this way by coming in through the window roof of the bathroom she's in. As she's taking a bath and naked, she can't run leaving her in a perfect position for von Krolock to bite her.
  • Censor Suds: When Alfred encounters Sarah in the bath.
  • Classical Movie Vampire: Count von Krolock.
  • Cobweb of Disuse: The castle is full of these.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Sarah has already become a vampire, and turns Alfred into one as Professor Abronsius unknowingly takes them to Vienna.
  • Damsel in Distress: Sarah, though she never seems aware of the danger she is in or shows any desire to be rescued.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Let's just say that Herbert is interested in sucking more than just Alfred's blood.
  • Dirty Old Man: Shagal, who attempts to seduce the inn's young maidservant. He finally gets her after turning.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: A constant problem for Alfred.
  • Failure Hero: Both Abronsius and Alfred prove to be terribly incompetent and useless hunters, to the point where they end up not only failing to destroy any of the vampires, but inadvertently helping to spread the scourge to the rest of the world by bringing the vampirized Sarah along with them.
  • Fanservice: Sharon Tate in a bathtub. Yikes.
  • Fantastic Religious Weirdness: Crucifixes ward off vampires ... but only Christian ones.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Count von Krolock.
  • Haunted Castle: Practically de rigeur, isn't it?
  • Help, I'm Stuck!: Happens to Abronsius when trying to enter von Krolock's crypt through a tight window. Alfred "helps" him by trying to pull him through with his scarf, nearly strangling him.
    • Then, Alfred is told to go through the castle and back outside so he can get Abronsius out that way. But halfway through he gets distracted by Sarah's singing and temporarily forgets about his task, only getting back after the professor has been (harmlessly) frozen solid.
  • Henpecked Husband: Shagal.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Alfred and Sarah.
  • Hollywood Darkness: The exterior scenes during full moon are clearly shot at daylight.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Subverted when Magda holds up a crucifix to ward off the Jewish vampire Shagal, only to be told, in a heavy Yiddish accent, "Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire!" Apparently holy symbols only hurt if they were ever holy to the vampire.
  • Idiot Heroes: Abronsius and especially Alfred.
  • The Igor: Alfred is a rare heroic version.
  • Improvised Cross: Abronsius and Alfred manage to ward of the vampires with a cross made of overly long swords.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Sarah.
  • Jewish Complaining: The vampirized Shagal bitches to Koukol about the poor location of his coffin.
  • Karmic Death: Koukol, who catches and kills a wolf early on, gets eaten by wolves at the end.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Professor Abronsius's advice is singularly unhelpful at just about every stage of the film.
  • Losing a Shoe in the Struggle: In the last scene Alfred loses one of his shoes during his death struggle while Sarah bites him on the sleigh.
  • Logo Joke / Artistic Title: Leo the MGM lion morphs into an animated Orlokian vampire, whose fangs drip blood that trickles down past the scrolling credits.
  • Love at First Sight: Alfred's reaction to Sarah, and Herbert's reaction to Alfred.
  • Matzo Fever: Alfred, for the beautiful red-headed Jewess Sarah.
  • Missing Reflection: Vampires do not show up in mirrors. This becomes important in the ballroom scene.
  • Mood Whiplash: The film shifts on a dime between slapstick comedy and straightforward Hammeresque horror.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Professor Abronsius and Alfred take out two vampires, so they can use their clothes and wigs to get closer to Sarah at the vampire ball.
  • Mundane Luxury: Sarah indulges in warm baths.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Vampirized Shagal after realizing he had just killed Magda who was meant for the party guests.
  • Narrator: Heard at the beginning and end of the film. Voiced by Ferdy Mayne, who also plays Count von Krolock.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The fearless vampire killers unwittingly bring a vampire back to civilization, where it can spread the curse and continue the supernatural evil of vampirism.
  • Not Quite Saved Enough: At first it seems Alfred made it in time to save Sarah from turning into a vampire which he unfortunately finds out too late at the end of the film.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They can be warded off with religious symbols (but only the symbols of the religion that they believe in — Alfred tries a cross on one, but he turns out to be Jewish and he just snickers in response).
  • Plummet Perspective: Abronsius loses his hat while navigating The Precarious Ledge at von Krolock's castle, and we see it fall the long way down.
  • The Professor: Professor Abronsius likes to think he is this.
  • The Renfield: von Krolock's hunchbacked servant Koukol, who is also The Speechless.
  • Scenery Porn: Wilfrid Shingleton's production design and Douglas Slocombe's cinematography make this a spectacular-looking film. The interior sets are stunning, as are the exteriors filmed in the Italian Alps.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: Became the popular European musical Tanz Der Vampire (and, allegedly, the much less popular American version, Dance of the Vampires).
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: Subverted when we see the shadows of Abronsius and Alfred piercing a Wooden Stake into the heart of a ... pillow.
  • Shiksa Goddess: Shagal for his blonde serving wench, though anything would be preferable to his wife.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Count von Krolock's name sounds suspiciously similar to that of Count Orlok from Nosferatu (1922), and Alfred's appearance is similar to Thomas Hutter's in that film.
    • Professor Abronsius' appearance resembles that of the Village Doctor in Vampyr (1932).
    • The grotesque family portraits lining the hall at von Krolock's castle are reminiscent of those in House of Usher (1960).
    • The climactic vampire ball is similar to one in The Kiss of the Vampire (1963).
    • The innkeeper and his family (presumably) are Jewish, and the artist Marc Chagall (pronounced as 'Shagal') was one of the more famous Jews in France, where Polanski had been based for most of his life after escaping Poland.
  • Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror
  • Snowy Sleigh Bells: Heard at the beginning of the film as Abronsius and Alfred arrive in Transylvania.
  • They Called Me Mad!: Professor Abronsius's vampire obsession eventually got him fired from his post at Königsberg University, where his colleagues dubbed him "The Nut."
  • Überwald: Transylvania gets this treatment, natch.
  • Undercrank: Utilized at various points for supernatural as well as comedic effect.
  • Vampire Bites Suck
  • Vampire Dance: The climax occurs during the vampires' annual ball.
  • Vampire Hunter: What does it say in the title?
  • Vampire Vords: The Count talks like this, but Herbert, oddly, does not.
  • Vampires Are Rich: Shagal appears to be the only lower class vampire.
  • Vampires Sleep in Coffins: Count von Krolock and his son sleep in wooden coffins while the rest of the vampires sleep in stone crypts.
  • The Virus: Vampirism.
  • The Von Trope Family: Count von Krolock and his son.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Shagal, the innkeeper.

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