Successful comedy horror is notoriously difficult to catch on film. There is not a strict quotient that decides how many laughs should precede how many gasps. It’s seems that a director’s intuition is the best marker. That said, Roman Polanski is not known for humor – not then, not now.
When Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a leading exponent of the genre, you know you’re in trouble. Mel Brook’s managed to pull it off with Young Frankenstein, but Brooks is likely a comic genius.
Roman Polanski’s comedy horror The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) is neither a good comedy or an effective horror film. For laughs, Polanski most often offers clownish behaviour; for chills, he pursues embedded tropes – from spooky, medieval castles to pale-faced, aristocratic vampires.
The film is set in Transylvania, possibly in the 19th century. Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his apprentice Alfred (Roman Polanski) are vampire hunters. They get around the snowy landscape in a horse-drawn sleigh, which is used for a few slap-stick routines.
Abronsius is too old for the gig and Alfred is too dumb. Of note, Polanski’s soon-to-be-girlfriend Sharon Tate plays someone named Sarah and doesn’t have much to do but look beautiful and brainless.
Perhaps one reason – the main reason – The Fearless Vampire Killers doesn’t work is because it was made by Roman Polanski. How an ostensible comedy came his way is puzzling – for with a resume that includes Knife in the Water, Repulsion, and Cul-de-sac, how did he get backing for a vampire spoof?
I know – the answer can be googled, but still, the question does remain – and it will, forever.