Michio Yamamoto’s BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY – The Blu Review
Most true horror fans know the gothic excesses of Hammer horror in their heyday (late 1950’s through the 1960’s) are a high point of worldwide genre cinema. Many fans may even know that Hammer released alternate versions of many of their films in Japan with extra bits of gore and nudity. This points to the fact that Hammer horror films were quite popular in Japan, as they were in the U.K. and the U.S. In fact, they were popular enough for Japanese director Michio Yamamoto to try his hand at producing a homegrown version of Hammer-influenced vampires. This series of three films have become known as The Bloodthirsty Trilogy.
In 1970’s The Legacy of Dracula (also known as The Vampire Doll), Keiko and her friend go in search of her missing brother when the brother visits his girlfriend Yuko. In 1971’s follow-up, Lake of Dracula, Dr. Saeki investigates the deaths of several young women at a lakeside resort. His discoveries lead him to believe a vampire is on the prowl, so he sets out to kill the creature. Finally, 1974’s Evil of Dracula sees a new teacher being hired at a private school for girls only to discover he is being groomed to take over as principal of the school—but first he must become a vampire.
Fans of Hammer horror or of Italian gothic cinema of the 1960’s are simply going to love these films. All the trappings of gothic horror abound: ancient, creepy villas; cobwebbed secret chambers; dank, musty cellars; eerie characters; and an abundance of atmosphere. At a time when Japanese cinema was testing the censors with sex, nudity, and gore, these films feel like quaint throwbacks to early cinema instead of early 1970’s genre entries. Those of us who still enjoy the 1960’s Italian gothic chillers from the likes of Freda, Margheriti, and Bava, will enjoy these films immensely; others, perhaps expecting something more outlandish, will likely be disappointed.
All three films are shortish, running between 82 and 87 minutes. If there’s a drawback, it’s the tendency for lengthy bits of exposition in between action set pieces. Indeed, the films may be a bit too dialogue heavy but, while I noticed this, it didn’t really detract from the general creepy atmosphere of the films. Another surprise is just how tame the films are. There is very little actual exploitative material across the three films, something of an anomaly when discussing Japanese genre fare of this time period. In The Vampire Doll there is only one questionable scene, where a character’s neck is opened up in graphic close-up followed by a medium shot of a long-lasting arterial spray. This is all the more shocking for the staid atmosphere the film has maintained through the entirety of its running time, and surprises the viewer for its graphic absurdity. Lake of Dracula continues the trend of eerie atmospherics instead of exploitative violence. It isn’t until Evil of Dracula that any nudity is revealed, and that is quite brief, along with a couple of short bloody scenes as well. Overall, these films are quite tame in comparison to other Japanese genre films of the time.
That, however, should not deter horror fans from trying these films out. What they may lack in the areas of sex and violence is made up in spades with chilling atmosphere and eroticism. Just like the Hammer classics, the male vampires are dashingly handsome, similar to the late, great Christopher Lee, while the women are generally very easy on the eyes. The films are quite westernized, as might befit a film in the gothic style. We aren’t in feudal Japan with its traditional wood homes with bed mats and sliding bamboo scrims. These homes are very western. They are large, with high, vaulted ceilings and huge, second floor halls and banisters, with staircases on either side. They come with large dining halls and equally large libraries, and outside grounds so wide it would make the Queen of England blush. It is obvious Yamamoto tried to replicate the bourgeois trappings of Hammer films.
Other than the occasional tediousness of overlong exposition, the only other fault I found with the films were some obvious plot inconsistencies. An example, in The Vampire Doll, is the deaf-mute servant (an obvious riff on the Renfield character) who is…well, deaf and mute. Except he has an uncanny ability to “hear” his mistresses’ words, even with his back turned, throughout the film. There are several of these glaring types of errors, but I found them fun to note and to laugh at rather then something that detracted from the films—perhaps an indication I’ve seen far too many B-films in my life. Simply put, though, I didn’t mind dismissing these errors because I was enjoying myself far too much to let them bother me.
Arrow Video has released this obscure trilogy of westernized vampire films from Japan in an extremely nice package. The Blu-Ray discs were transferred from original film elements and both picture and sound are excellent. The first disc contains The Vampire Doll as well as a new video appraisal by film critic Kim Newman. Disc two contains the second and third films in the trilogy as well as trailers for all three films. If there is any criticism of this package, it would be for the small amount of additional content included with the set. These films scream for special features that would place them in better context. Perhaps their relative obscurity made it difficult for Arrow to produce such features. Regardless, having the films in high definition is a gift itself, so I won’t complain too much.
You can purchase the film directly from Arrow Video at http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/category/usa/ or from Amazon.