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Film / The Fearless Vampire Killers

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Poster art by Frank Frazetta

"Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire!"

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 Collonote ) — is a 1967 Horror Comedy film directed by Roman Polański (who also costarred and co-wrote 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 which is very popular in Europe, as well as for being the film which introduced Polanski to his future wife, Sharon Tate.

Sometime in the late 19th century, the eminent — in his own mind, at least — vampire expert Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his bumbling young assistant Alfred (Polanski) arrive in the dead of winter at a small Transylvanian village, 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.

While Professor Abronsius spends his time 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 heads out alone to rescue his daughter, 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.

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 movies — particularly those in the Hammer Horror tradition, with a few nods to Corman and Bava thrown in — and vampire works in general.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Shagal's reduced to begging when he realizes the Count has taken his daughter.
    Shagal: Your excellency...not her. Please, not her.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Sarah transforms into a vampire at the end and also infects 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.
  • Bathing Beauty: One of the defining aspects of Sarah's personality is her obsession with taking baths: believing that it is good for your health and should be indulged in at least once a day. The first time Alfred sees her in the inn, she is in the bath, and when he find her in Count von Krolock's castle, she is taking another bath.
  • 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.
  • A Bloody Mess: While chasing Shagal, Abronsius and Alfred drive a stake into what they think is his form hiding behind a canvas, and are saturated by a gush of red liquid. However, they have actually driven their stake into a barrel and the liquid turns out to be red wine.
  • 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.
  • The Dead Can Dance: Count von Krolock throws an elaborate ball for the previous generations of vampires. All of the vampires on the dance floor are experts in the courtly dances, and the two humans Professor Abronsius and Alfred stick out like sore thumbs when they attempt to infiltrate the dance due to their clumsiness.
  • 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 via the two well-endowed young ladies in the inn.
  • Edible Bludgeon: During one of the slapstick sequences, Rebecca Shagal mistakes Professor Abronsius for her husband sneaking up behind her and hits him over the head with a garlic sausage, knocking him out.
  • 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
  • Frozen Fashion Sense: Count von Krolock throws a Midnight Ball for the previous generations of vampires from the castle. They attend in tattered finery from a variety of time periods ranging from the Middle Ages to Regency.
  • Haunted Castle: Practically de rigeur for a vampire film, isn't it?
  • Help, I'm Stuck!: Happens to Abronsius while 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. Halfway through doing so, however, 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 in 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 Hero: Abronsius and especially Alfred.
  • The Igor: Alfred is a rare heroic version to Abronsius, and Koukol is a straight version to von Krolock.
  • Improvised Cross: Abronsius and Alfred manage to ward off the vampires with a cross fashioned from a pair of 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 dog early on, gets eaten by dogs at the end.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Professor Abronsius's advice is singularly unhelpful at just about every stage of the film.
  • Logo Joke: Leo the MGM lion morphs into an animated Orlokian vampire, whose fangs drip blood that trickles down through the scrolling credits. The drama mask at the bottom also disappears.
  • Losing a Shoe in the Struggle: When Alfred is attacked by the vampiric Sarah in the sleigh, he loses a shoe that falls off the sleigh into the snow.
  • Love at First Sight: Alfred's reaction to Sarah, and Herbert's reaction to Alfred.
  • 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.
  • No-Sell: Someone tries to fend a vampire off with a cross, but the vampire doesn't care because he's Jewish, meaning Christian religious symbols have no effect on him.
  • 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 that he's wrong about 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).
  • Outside Ride: When Professor Abronsius orders Alfred to follow Koukol, Alfred does so by clinging to the back of the sleigh. This works fine until the hunchback stops to deal with a dog.
  • Parasol of Pain: In the opening sequence, Alfred uses his umbrella to beat off the dogs which are attacking the sleigh.
  • 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. We also watch the satchel full of crucifixes, garlic, and wooden stakes roll aaaall the way down the snowy mountain after it's dropped.
  • 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 hammering a Wooden Stake into the heart of... a pillow.
  • Shield Surf: Koukol uses a coffin as a makeshift toboggan to chase the sleigh down the mountain.
  • Shiksa Goddess: Shagal has the hots 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's 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).
    • Shagal the innkeeper and (presumably) his family 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.
    • A number of historical figures — some of them long dead — can be glimpsed among the dancing vampires at the ball. The limping, malformed Richard III is easily spotted; another vampire with a particularly impressive wig may be Louis XIV.
  • Snowy Sleigh Bells: Heard at the beginning of the film as Abronsius and Alfred ride through Transylvania.
  • Stereo Fibbing:
    von Krolock: So, you lost your way?
    Abronsius: (as Alfred nods) No.
  • 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."
  • Through the Ceiling, Stealthily: Count von Krolock slips in through through a skylight on the roof of the inn using some implied power, right into the bathroom where Sarah is bathing, catching her off guard, only learning of his appearance due to the snow that falls down through the now-windowless hole, and powerless to stop him from biting her.
  • Ɯberwald: Transylvania gets this treatment, natch.
  • Undercrank: Utilized at various points for supernatural as well as comedic effect.
  • Vampire Bites Suck: The movie.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Dance Of The Vampires