Since reading Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula," I've been viewing a bunch of Dracula movies. Although "Dance of the Vampires," renamed "The Fearless Vampire Killers" in the US, isn't a "Dracula" adaptation, it's said to parody the Dracula and vampire series of Hammer Films. Having endured some of the lackluster output from that studio to follow its more-successful original 1958 "Dracula" adaptation, I wanted to be rewarded for it by Roman Polanski's vampire comedy. In that regard, it's quite enjoyable despite a lot of the humor not working for me.
As far as vampire comedies go, I find "Love at First Bite" (1979) funnier—largely because of its rapid-fire structure of jokes. Many of the one-liners are duds, but they're quickly passed over by other lines that do work. "Dance of the Vampires," on the other hand, is rather slow and silent early on, although it picks up after the vampires come into the picture. The humor is more of the physical and slapstick variety. While this leaves a lot of dead space, when a gag does pay off, it can be more gratifying.
The best ones, methinks, are those that upend traditional vampire lore established by prior movies. The Van Helsing type Professor as a buffoon, for instance, or the first explicitly gay vampire in mainstream cinema that I know of—who is thwarted by a human biting him! Or the Jewish sexual predator who continues much in the same vein once he's turned into a vampire. In one of the film's best jokes, when his victim confronts him with the usual vampire repellent of a cross, he quips, "You got the wrong vampire."
Like some of the Hammer films, there's sex (plenty of cleavage and bath scenes and a bit of spanking) and color. "The Fearless Vampire Killers" is even better photographed and has richer locations than Hammer's output. Of course, there's a makeshift cross in one scene, too, and the vampires are a satanic cult. The bath scenes, the human and vampire sex predators and the hunchback assistant (à la Universal's non-Dracula monster movies) reminded me of another "Dracula" adaptation, "Drakula Istanbul'da" (1953).
The film's alternate title, "The Fearless Vampire Killers," can be read two ways: as referring to the human Professor and his assistant or to the vampires themselves. Reflecting this dual reading, there are two comedic chases: in the first, the humans chase a vampire and, in the second, the vampires chase the humans. Moreover, these vamps have mirrors in their mansion. Unlike the inexplicable mirror in Castle Dracula of Franco's poor 1970 adaptation, these mirrors have a reason. The vampires don't care whether the mirrors expose their true nature because they're not hiding. They're not like the suave Dracula of so many movies who sneaks into high-class English society. No, their mirrors expose the true nature of humans. This works wonderfully in the ballroom dance sequence (which is likely inspired by Hammer's "The Kiss of the Vampire" (1963)). It's far better as a gag than Mel Brooks's ballroom mirror exposure in "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" (1995), which returns mirrors to being a threat to vampires.