From Nosferatu to Thirst, films have tried to capture the shadowy, seductive figure of the vampire. Writer Anne Billson chronicles the creature’s evolution.
Slide Six: Dance of the Vampires/The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
At the time of its release, Roman Polanski's horror-comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers was dismissed as neither fish nor fowl by people who underestimated the extent to which humor and horror bleed together, particularly in Polanski's films; one has only to recall the discomfort of critics who couldn't decide if The Tenant or Bitter Moon were supposed to be comedies. But we often laugh at horror movies, just as comic predicaments can sometimes fill us with terror. Polanski's film may look like a lush period piece, but, subverting the Hammer formula, it acknowledges the existence of gay vampires, and Jewish vampires who sneer at crucifixes, and it's the self-regarding stupidity of the Van Helsing-like sage played by Jack MacGowran (a dead ringer for the evil doctor in Vampyr) which ultimately causes the very catastrophe he set out to avert. The irreverent approach and ironic denouement are more in tune with revisionist 1970s film-making than with the typical Hammer tale in which dark desires are defeated and the status quo restored, but the imagery — the glittering snowscapes, Sharon Tate importuned by a vampire while she's taking a bath, or the dance itself, with its human interlopers trying to blend into a roomful of rotting undead aristocracy — is hauntingly beautiful.