The Fearless Vampire Killers

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Roman Polanski
Extras: Featurette, Trailer

For many years I have been anticipating a DVD release of this film and I can easily say that Roman Polanski’s "The Fearless Vampire Killers" is one of my all-time favorite horror parodies. I would even go so far as to say, to me, it is the single-best horror comedy ever made. Clearly, I have been looking forward eagerly to the day that I could finally give the movie a spin in my DVD player. The day has finally arrived.

"The Fearless Vampire Killers" takes us into the heart of Transylvania where Professor Abronsius (Jack McGowran) and his fumbling apprentice Alfred (Roman Polanski) are on the hunt for vampires. They discover the castle of Count Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) in the snow-blanketed hills near a small village, where angst-ridden townspeople perform strange rituals to fend off evil.
When they witness the abduction of the innkeeper Shagal’s (Alfie Bass) daughter Sara (Sharon Tate) by the count they set out to explore the castle and put an end to the vampire’s reign.
But sadly the two have no idea where to start really, or how to go about the job and as such they are less than successful in their quest and actually play into the vampire’s hands, who now plans to make them part of his feast as well.

"The Fearless Vampire Killers" is a wonderful gothic movie in which atmosphere is everything. Striking visuals that boldly use colors and a remarkably lush production design are the trademark of the film, as well as some of the most hilarious antics you may have seen in a horror spoof. However, the film is never silly in a Mel Brooks kind of way. It is played very straight and the comedy arising from the situations and the dialogue stem more from the characters’ inability to grasp the full scope of the situation than mocking a scene for its own sake. That gives the film a lot of sincerity and credibility, letting it play like an actual horror film and simply accentuating it with absurd moments.

To say the cast of the film is perfect is almost a misunderstanding. McGowran as the professor is just a blast with his wild hair and absent mindedness. Polanski as Alfred is a hoot as he focuses on always the wrong things. Mayne is aristocratic and menacing as the Count, Alfie Bass is just a riot as Shagal with facial expressions and mannerisms that speak volumes, and then of course, there is the radiant and beautiful Sharon Tate as the naïve little temptress, showing a lot of skin.

The movie is presented in a <$PS,widescreen> presentation on this DVD that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. It is framed in the film’s original 2.40:1 aspect ratio making sure every bit of the wonderful cinematography is properly reproduced. Warner Home Video took a long time to bring "The Fearless Vampire Killers" to DVD and as such it is a bit disappointing that the transfer has not undergone any sort of restorative effort. The image is ridden with speckles and dust marks throughout. Though not overly distracting, it nonetheless shows that the presentation could have been improved significantly with some cleanup. There’s also a bit of grain evident in some scenes, but on the other hand the level of detail in the transfer is very good, bringing out every little bit of the wonderful sets and costumes. Black levels are solid, rendering an image with good visual depth and shadows that never lose definition. Colors are reproduced vibrantly with vivid pastel hues and gorgeous gradients. No edge-enhancement or compression artifacts distract from the viewing experience.

The audio on the release comes as the film’s original mono sound track. It serves the film very well and although the frequency response is audibly limited at times, it is never distracting and adds to the vintage gothic atmosphere of the film placing it squarely in the pantheon of great classic horror movies.

The DVD contains a featurette entitled "Vampires 101" that is quite amusing as well. It is a vintage promo featurette to promote the film originally. Instead of simply slapping together footage from the movie itself, however, it presents itself with a host who talks about the do’s and don’t’s of vampire hunting, exemplifying his studies using footage from the movie. It’s a fun watch.
The only other extra on the release is the theatrical trailer of the film.

I am exhilarated to finally own "The Fearless Vampire Killers" on DVD. It could have turned out a bit more elaborate in content and a bit better in presentation but overall I’m definitely a happy camper. This, to me, is a brilliant horror comedy that anyone can enjoy, so make sure you get your copy ready for Halloween!