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Television Reviews : 'Vampires' on Z

January 02, 1988|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

Quick: Which movie title appeals most to you? "Dance of the Vampires?" Or "The Fearless Vampire Killers, or "Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck?"

The second has an air of leaden would-be whimsy, in an imitation Terry Southern vein. But if that's the one you like, you're in agreement with producer Martin Ransohoff, who pasted it, along with other things, on the American release of Roman Polanski's 1967 horror-comedy-romance.

But if you chose the first, you're with Polanski, whose original 108-minute cut of the film will be shown on the Z Channel (cable) tonight at 7 (and at other times through through Tuesday).

"Dance of the Vampires," Polanski has long insisted, is a much different movie than "The Fearless Vampire Killers." Indeed, he has several times called it the personal favorite of his entire career.

Is this some private perversity? Is it sentimental feeling--since the movie co-stars both Polanski and his late wife, Sharon Tate? Not exactly.

The version the Z Channel is showing--though only 10 minutes longer, at 108 minutes, than the "American cut"--is a far different film. It has a different mood, a different rhythm. The horror is more languorous, the romance more disturbing. The slapstick gags don't seem as wrenching. The frenetic mood of the American release is replaced by an eerie sense of mounting dread, a kind of magical unease.

In both forms, it's a glittering satire of the classical vampire movie. Set in some obscure country, which suggests both pre-war Poland and Transylvania, it follows two hapless vampire hunters (the baroquely puckish Jack McGowran and Polanski) through the dank, cavernous interiors of a snowmantled castle inhabited by an elegant count (Ferdy Mayne), his swishy son and a horde of conventioning vampires--resting happily in their coffins by day, and emerging at night for the grand vampire's ball.

As in "Repulsion" or "Chinatown" we are trapped in a realm of sexuality and dread, a cul-de-sac heavy with menace and reptilian seductiveness. The film becomes an obsessional horror tale of desperate love, absurd bravery and the threat of universal corruption.

What were the changes? Besides making cuts, "Vampire's" revisers added "comical" sound effects, changed the narrator from a somber voice (Ferdy Mayne's) to a cartoonish one and redubbed some actors, including Polanski. One character, a Jewish vampire who resembled Teyve with fangs, was substantially eliminated.

"It was a beautiful film," Polanski said of the original. "But it was redubbed, cut, the music was moved around. And a three-minute animated prologue was added in front to explain some jokes, because the alterations had made them incomprehensible."

The American version of "Vampire Killers"--the title unfortunately remains on this print--has a forced, jittery air.

In Polanski's European cut, the mood of the movie's great set-piece--the vampire ball, with the disguised vampire killers, dodging with cracked finesse through the pirouettes of the dancers--is sustained throughout. The film has an air of freezing gaiety, hellish savoir-faire--yet, at the center, beats a frantic heart, yearning for the innocence that will be destroyed.

As with Polanski's other great movies--"Cul de Sac," "Chinatown" and "Tess"--it's a nightmare worth preserving.

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