The Fearless Vampire Killers (partially found U.S. cut of horror-comedy film; 1967)
The Fearless Vampire Killers is a horror-comedy movie directed by and starring Roman Polanski, and featuring Jack MacGowran and Polanski’s future wife Sharon Tate. The movie tells the story of a vampire killer named Professor Ambrosius (MacGowran) and his apprentice Alfred (Polanski), who visits a village in Transylvania with the goal of finding traces of vampire activities. The local keeper’s daughter, Sarah (Tate), is abducted by Count Von Krolock and Alfred and Ambrosius attempt to rescue her by entering the vampire's castle.
While the original cut is available in all home video formats, a theatrical U.S. cut was made against Polanski’s wishes. With the U.S. cut’s negative reception, it faded into obscurity and only a handful of clips of said version survive to this day.
Production of the movie went smoothly with minimal setbacks and got its premiere in the UK in February 1967 under the title Dance of the Vampires, receiving critical praise.
After the movie’s release in the UK, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer approached Polanski and the movie’s executive producer Martin Ransohoff in an attempt to edit the movie in order to make it more appealing to the North American audience, emphasizing in the comedy while toning down the horror aspect of Dance of the Vampires. Despite disapproval from Polanski, the movie was sent to MGM’s supervising editor Margaret Booth and Head of Theatrical Post Production Merle Chamberlain, who made substantial cuts in the movie, cutting up to 12 minutes worth of footage, adding an animated prologue and redubbing all the characters. The movie was then retitled into The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck. The changes made for the U.S. cut made Polanski pursuing in removing his name from the credits but with no avail, ending up disowning his movie entirely.
The Fearless Vampire Killers had a limited release in the U.S. on November 13th, 1967, with a lukewarm reception. In 1970 it was re-released as a double bill feature with another movie starring Sharon Tate, Valley of the Dolls, screened just a year after the Manson Killings. In 1979, MGM distributed the original cut in revival houses, garnering critical acclaim in the United States. The director’s cut has since been the version screened in theaters and released on home video. Polanski’s cut ended up bearing The Fearless Vampire Killers as its official English title, although in some countries the Dance of the Vampires title is still used.
Changes in the U.S. Cut
The U.S. release of the movie cuts up to twelve minutes worth of footage, shortening key scenes such as the trip to Count Von Krolock’s castle and Alfred searching for a mysterious voice in the castle’s corridors, as well as omitting some horror elements, which in turn created a negative impact in several comedic moments.
Most of the characters got redubbed with a kookie, almost cartoonish manner, most notably Ambrosius. The U.S. cut also had a big reliance on loud sound effects to emphasize the movie’s slapstick comedy aspect.
The most notable aspect in the U.S. cut is the inclusion of an animated prologue, where Ambrosius and Alfred meet each other in a graveyard with the purpose of catching a vampire on the loose. The animated clip is uncredited, although it’s likely that it was provided by a unit within MGM’s own animation studio. The opening credits also includes the subtitle “(...) or, Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck”, which has been omitted in recent home video releases of the movie.
The U.S. cut got its televised premiere at The CBS Late Movie block on February 18th, 1972. A user in the Classic Horror Film Board claimed to own a taped copy of the movie from that airdate, but no other information has surfaced since.
While the U.S. cut never saw a home video release, the animated opening and a theatrical trailer were released as bonus features on the director’s cut’s Laserdisc release by MGM/UA Home Video and Turner Entertainment in 1993. A region-free DVD release of the movie, distributed in Brazil by Cinemagia, includes the same bonus features as the Laserdisc release. Both were remastered and released, alongside the promotional featurette Vampires 101, on the Blu Ray release of the movie, through the Warner Archive Collection, in October 2019.
- DVDTalk's article about The Fearless Vampire Killer's U.S. cut. Retrieved 03 Feb '20
- The Classic Monster Film Board topic about the U.S. cut of The Fearless Vampire Killers. Retrieved 03 Feb '20
- DVD Drive-In's page about The CBS Late Movie. Retrieved 03 Feb '20
- Trailers From Hell's review of Warner Archive's Blu Ray release of The Fearless Vampire Killers. Retrieved 03 Feb '20