No doubt inspired by the success of Hammer Film’s Dracula series, as well as the popularity of the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, Japanese movie maestros Toho (of Godzilla fame) decided to get in on the vein drain biz, the result of which are the three film’s I’ll be turning my eerie eyeballs on today!
The Vampire Doll (1970): On your standard dark and stormy night, Sagawa (Atsuo Nakamura) returns from abroad and heads to the home of his fiance Yuko Nonomura (Yukiko Kobayashi)…a home that would give Barnabas Collins the fucking creeps no less (at times realized with a fantastic miniature in exterior scenes). Once there, Yuko’s mother; the ultra eerie Shidu (Yôko Minakaze) informs Sagawa his love has died. He opts to spend the night and of course has nightmare visions of his lost love…visions that are soon revealed to be reality resulting in Sagawa’s disappearance. Enter Sagawa’s sister Keiko (Kayo Matsuo) and her fiance Hiroshi (Akira Nakao) who go in search of the S-man and find themselves B.D. in vampiric insanity…and dark family secrets…and hypnotism…this is a delightfully odd one my fiends!
Filled with rich Gothic imagery, an original take on the vampiric evil’s origins (the Nonomura family is cursed by the god of Death…or the Devil…both names are bandied about), and soaked in spooky atmosphere, The Vampire Doll delivers some Hammer style thrills while retaining the excellent miniature work, costuming, and make-up effects that make ’70’s era Japanese fright flicks so damn enjoyable!
While the film is a fearsome and fun watch, there are some extras on this disc to sink your teeth into! First up we get a visual essay on the series by author Kim Newman (who provides his usual ultra informative and engaging conversation), followed by trailers for all three films in the collection and still galleries!
Next up is:
Lake of Dracula (1971): Young Akiko loses her puppy one day and tracks the dog to a strange European mansion . Once there she encounters the corpse of a woman and a vampire (Mori Kishida). Flash forward many years, and Akiko (Midori Fujita) is still haunted by the images she witnessed as a child, though she believes the whole affair was merely a dream. As fate would have it, it definitely wasn’t a dream, and that pesky blood sucker has set up residence near the same lake by which Akiko lives, and he gets up to his old tricks…the result of which is vampirizing the locals (including Akiko’s sister), and murdering Akiko’s dog (seriously what is this fucker’s boggle with puppers?). Now it’s up to our erstwhile heroine and her doctor boyfriend to try and end evil’s reign!
Filled with raging thunderstorms, arty set pieces, old dark houses, ivory skinned ghouls (not to mention their seductive overlord), and a female protagonist besieged by the supernatural, Lake of Dracula is a Gothic horror lovers wet dream, and includes many of the vampire tale tropes that fans of the genre expect (but must have seemed fresh as a daisy to Japanese audiences that hadn’t been bombarded with fang bang tales for a century unlike their western counterparts). As fantastic as all of the above is, I think my absolute favorite part of Lake of Dracula is the set piece used to realize the European Mansion (both interiors and exterior)…it’s all built on a sound stage so it has that wonderfully surreal quality that always accompanies that technique (especially in ’70’s era Japanese productions), and the whole thing comes off as a delightfully comic book style haunted house…needless to say, I ate that shit up with a sinister spoon!
As for extra features on this one, you get trailers for all three films in the collection…a bit anemic, but the film was awesome so who gives a rat’s ass!
Moving on we come to:
Evil of Dracula (1974): Professor Shiraki (Toshio Kurosawa) takes a job at a remote girl’s academy. Upon arriving the mega-creepy Principal (Shin Kishida) informs Shiraki that he will be the school’s new principal as he is stepping down due to the recent death of his wife (whose corpse is being kept in the basement for a week to see if she will return to life as is the local custom). Our hero soon has visions of the dearly departed (among others) looking a little long in tooth (literally) and learns that the school suffers from multiple members of the student body going missing each year, along with rumors of vampires (including a real corker about how Dracula came to Japan and became a vampire)…now, how could all of this be connected? Well, I won’t keep you in suspense, there’s a vampire on campus (can you guess who?) and he’s turning the school girls into blood gulping maniacs and it’s up to our Sonny Chiba coiffed teacher to save the day!
Devoid of much of the surreal set pieces and pure Gothic ambiance of it’s predecessor, Evil of Dracula manages to entertain. Kurosawa makes for a strong leading man, and his charge ahead and get shit done attitude is a nice deviation from the normal waif in distress that the genre often puts forth. Additionally, Kishida’s Principle radiates menace and aloofness, and when he is on screen the sense of unease is palpable. Special mention must also be given to the effects filled finale that offers up some great ghoulish grue!
If you love vampire films, and crave a take on them as seen from a unique perspective (that still manages to hit all of the beloved beats), The Bloodthirsty Trilogy is can’t miss fright flick fare! The films are saturated with trippy visuals, Gothic atmosphere, and good ol’ horror biz chills!