Months ere Robert Evans lured him to the New World to collaborate with aging B-lord William Castle in production of his breakthrough horror classic, Roman Polanski somehow cajoled Filmways and Cadre to bankroll this charming, deranged, visually sumptuous pasquinade of vampire flicks. Requisite dapper, diabolical, debonaire Count Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) is the film's sole straight man, foil to every other ludicrous player. As peckish as ever, a bewigged, mustachioed Jack MacGowran plays bumbling Van Helsing simulacrum Prof. Abronsius, and adorably elfin Polanski his craven adjunct, Alfred. A lifespan's research delivers the maladroit pair to a remote, garlic-bedecked lodging house in rural Transylvania, where its libidinous proprietor (Alfie Bass) fails with feigned ignorance to dissuade them in their search for ghastly sanguinarians, and his gorgeous daughter (Sharon Tate) provokes Arthur's ardor forthwith. Professing aspirations of global dominion, the Count hesitates not a moment before sampling and stealing away with this choicest peach, investigatory foreigners in pursuit and imperiled at least so much by their own ineptitude as the Count's malignance!
In sight, it's a magnificent picture: snow-clad, moonlit panoramas, cosy interiors and eldritch festivities recall Soviet classics Jack Frost and Sampo (atrociously abridged and dubbed versions of which are familiar to Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans) among others; those splendid expanses evince some influence of those wintry vistas conveyed in Chagall's American paintings - faith, Bass's tawdry innkeeper bears an eponym in dubious honor of the iconic artist!
Never lovelier, luscious Tate radiates in her every shot onscreen, yet Polanski wisely employed her sparingly without over-utilizing their limited romantic chemistry. In his nebbish role, the diminutive filmmaker was perfectly paired to gruff MacGowran, with whom he demonstrates a natural talent for physical comedy. Mayne very nearly proves himself Christopher Lee's equal as the fanged antagonist of suave menace; attired in suggestive pale blue, Iain Quarrier unnerves as his frigid queer scion.
Replete with a profusion of slapstick scenarios, ingenious sight gags and pitch-black humor, Dance isn't merely a production of thrill and quality superior to coeval Hammer flicks, but also hilarious as no script of those genre offerings ever dared be. Further, the Polish enfant terrible delighted in confounding expectations: a Jewish lamia isn't momentarily deterred by a brandished crucifix, predilections of the vampiric son hardly extend to the purloined leading lady and a devastating denouement will surely leave the most beguiled audience in disarray. Warbling choral vocals and clamorous rhythms distinguish its outlandish score composed by Polanski mainstay Krzysztof Komeda, among the most ambitious and unconventional that the jazz pianist penned but a few years preceding his untimely death.
Dance of the Vampires is a staple of any cinephile's winter collection, defying comparison with any other Romek offering. As half of a double bill, it may be comfortably screened with...?
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