"Shouldn't we build a barricade?"
"No, that would be bad tactics."
-Alfred and his teacher, Prof. Abronsius.
Just before he scored big time with Rosemary's Baby (1968), Roman Polanski made this horror-comedy which rounds out this month's vampire theme.
The title characters are Prof. Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his assistant Alfred (Polanski). They arrive in a village in Transylvania one snowy evening to investigate reports of vampires. Right from the start, we know these two aren't exactly like Van Helsing because, for one thing, Abronsius is so frozen by the trip to the village inn, Alfred needs to carry him off their carriage and thaw him out inside. Later in the film, they pretend to stake a vampire by having Alfred drive a stake into a pillow, only to have the hammer hit Abronsius's hand.
At the inn, Alfred becomes smitten with the tavern keeper's daughter, Sarah (Sharon Tate). She is promptly kidnapped by Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne), which sends our heroes into action.
They promptly infiltrate von Krolock's castle and pass themselves off as vampires before all the guests see that they and Sarah are the only ones who have reflections in the gigantic mirror in the ballroom.
Our heroes escape, only for Sarah to bite Alfred, while Abronsius continues driving the carriage, unaware that he is now bringing vampires into the world.
Polanski made this film because he realized that people (even then) were laughing at parts of scary movies. So, he decided to make a film in which the laughs are intentional(the film even has the amusing subtitle Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck). Although the laughs aren't as prominent as, say, Young Frankenstein (1974), which will test the patience of some viewers, there are some good ones. For instance, Sarah has a need to bathe almost constantly and von Krolock's son Herbert (Iain Quarrier) proves that he desires Alfred by chasing him obsessively around the castle. There's also the vampire who isn't affected by crucifixes because he's Jewish.
The art direction is also first-rate and understandably reminiscent of the set design for the Hammer Dracula films, which were in theaters at virtually the same time.
However, my favorite part of the film is the animated title sequence which rivals the ones in the James Bond and the Pink Panther series as a (short) show in itself.
Sadly, MGM's edits of the movie (originally titled Dance of the Vampires) kept it from making much of an impression in 1967, although it has faired better in recent years in the aftermath of much of Polanski's subsequent work.
This film is also a wonderful and heartbreaking look at the talent and beauty of Tate. Although Valley of the Dolls (1967)-the textbook definition of a campy film- became her most famous movie, this one allows her to be sensitive, beautiful, charming, and even scary.
Hence, this movie reminds us of how far Tate's star may have risen had she been allowed to continue with her career.