Vampires and Comedy and Dead Celebrities
The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) was recently on television, and I finally got to see this rare horror comedy first hand. This was the last movie Sharon Tate ever did before being murdered by the Manson Family. Yes, that’s right, the Manson Family, as in Charles Manson and his pals. Sharon Tate was married to Roman Polanski, the director of this movie. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but after a while, I got a clue. It’s a comedy. A farce. A spoof on the usual vampire hunter tale.
There’s something about the tone which stifles the comedy and lessens the effect of all the jokes. Some of the jokes are more obvious than others, but much of it is dark humor and filled with shallow caricatures. Most of the comedy is delivered by the two lead actors, Jack McGowran and Roman Polanski himself. They bumble around for most of the movie. McGowran plays an elder Professor, and Polanski plays an oblivious youngster. They are vampire hunters or something.
Fearless is a lot like Young Frankenstein, because both movies are spoofs, but Fearless does not have enough gags to be as successful. There are a couple really funny ones, so I gotta disagree with many reviews which cast movie as a one-star bomb. Even Roger Ebert gave this movie one-star and that in itself, is surprising enough. Does he need a laugh track? Yes, there’s something that doesn’t gel at times, like when the Professor gets stuck in a window and his pal forgets about him. Later, the duo goes to a ball in disguise and they start to dance, crossing in front of a huge mirror, which means the gig is up. They look at each other. The vampires frown in confusion, because a vampire doesn’t cast a reflection. That’s a pretty funny moment.
Jack McGowran as The Professor reminds me of Grandpa Joe, the character from the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. He speaks thinking he is intelligent, but he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. They play this gag over and over throughout, which is sorta tiresome after a while. Alfred is the bumbling sidekick. He runs away from a vampire at one point, crosses the room and ends up turned around, back where he was to begin with, face-to-face with the vampire again. I didn’t find that moment very funny, to be honest.
The acting is pretty decent so I don’t have any complaints about that. Even the beautiful Sharon Tate holds her own. This was her last movie before her unfortunate death. Speaking of visually stunning, this movie excels at that. Most of it looks like a dream or a Sergio Leone Western combined with a Rembrandt painting, which complements the setting.
Overall, this is an entertaining movie. It has a sort of earnestness and understated delivery that makes it unique, even over Young Frankenstein. While Young Frankenstein has a series of comedic set pieces, there is more irony than outright laughs in Fearless, which is why people hate it, I think. I think the highlight is probably the last part of the movie, and the scenes with Sharon Tate are well-done. Fearless is like a lot of old-school fantasies, filled with swirling darkness and macabre visions, with some chuckles like in a Disney cartoon or unusual adventures like in the old-time Saturday afternoon feature. It works.