Roman Polanski stepped away from thrillers to make this infectiously silly vampire farce that’s a lot more elegant than it had to be.Polanski also stars as Alfred, timid assistant of vampire hunter Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran). The movie features lots of slapstick and some genuinely ingenious ideas (Polanski wrote it with longtime collaborator Gerard Brach), but it’s not laugh-out-loud funny — some of it, perhaps unavoidably, hasn’t aged well.
Still, Polanski has made a comedy worthy of Mad magazine at its peak, and (as with Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky) one appreciates it intellectually — it’s clear that Polanski is turning clichés on their heads. There’s a Jewish vampire immune to crucifixes, and a gay vampire who lusts after Alfred.
Shooting in the Italian Alps, Polanski has also made one of the most gorgeous horror-comedies ever, and he manages several moments of subtle, dreamlike beauty. When Sharon Tate (later to become the director’s ill-fated wife) sits in her bathtub and the evil Count Von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) looms in the snow-covered skylight above her, a few snowflakes fall down on her before he does. The first shot is magnificent — it pulls back from the moon and reveals a vast white countryside, and it looks like a miniature set until a horse-drawn buggy charges through.Essential viewing for fans of vampires and Polanski.