17 January 2012

THE BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY/VAMPIRE DOLL/1970

VAMPIRE DOLL

1970/Director: MichioYamamoto/Writers: Hiroshi Nagano, Ei Ogawa
Cast: Jun Hamamura, Yukiko Kobayashi, Kayo Matsuo, Yôko Minakaze, Atsuo Nakamura

Also Known As: Chi wo sû ningyô: Yûrei yashiki no kyôfu/Bloodsucking Doll/Chi o suu ningyô/Fear of the Ghost House: Bloodsucking Doll/I klironomia tou vrykolaka/The Ghost Mansion's Horror: A Bloodsucking Doll/The Legacy of Dracula/The Night of the Vampire/The Vampire Doll

I recently got in this batch of films called The Bloodthirsty Trilogy, all from TOHO pictures and directed by Michio Yamamoto and co-written by Ei Ogawa (who wanted his professional name to sound like Edgar, as in Edgar Allen Poe). I don’t gather that the films were actually intended as a trilogy and that was most likely a packaging gimmick, but the films do have some similarity in terms of themes and production that link them together more in terms of appearance and atmosphere than actual storyline.  I am using the title Vampire Doll for the review here though the title of the film appears as Bloodsucking Doll on this, the British release called Legacy of Dracula, or The Bloodthirsty Trilogy. The other films include Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula, and those films too have a long list of confusing AKAs. But Vampire Doll is the first of the three films in terms of chronology and, like the other films in the series, what makes it stand out as a movie is the apparent influence on the film’s look and story by the Gothic films of the west, and in particular the successful vampire movies produced by Hammer studios during the late 50’s and through out the 60’s. That is not to say that Vampire Doll and the next two films are remakes or redoing of western vampire films without reference to Japanese horror lore. There is in fact a successful blending of Asian and western horror themes here that, along with the Terence Fisheresque sets, make the Bloodthirsty Trilogy an enduring little collection of movies.

It can be debated, I suppose, whether or not the first film, Vampire Doll, is really even a vampire movie at all. The antagonist, Yuko, is called a vampire by the people seeking her but she has more the elements of a zombie (she is being animated beyond death, we find out later, by hypnotism). She also has the qualities of the vengeful, wrathful spirit one finds in many Asian horror movies, returning to wreck vengeance on people who betrayed her during her life. Important in this type of Asian story is the link between the vengeful spirit and its family surviving family members. And such is the case here with Yuko and her mother and later her father, whose identity is revealed in a perhaps unnecessary plot twist at the film’s end. And believe it or not there is an actual "Vampire Doll" in he film, but I will let you discover that scene for yourself.

The film starts off in classic Gothic horror style with Yuko’s boyfriend, Kazuhiko Sagawa, traveling in a taxi in a stormy downpour to the home of his beloved Yuko. The house, on the inside and out, look more like the House of Usher than something you may find in the Japanese countryside, but that never seems to be an issue with the story's credibility. The house sets the mood for the film and the viewer can rest assured that they will be in for a spooky ride throughout the film. And for the most part they are. The movie does not disappoint if you are a fan of atmospheric Gothic horror. The story eventually follows the plight of Sagawa’s sister, Keiko, and her boyfriend Hiroshi, as they try to him after he has not been heard from since his trip to visit Yuko. Like Sagawa they soon discover from Yuko’s mother that Yuko has died, killed in a car accident a few weeks before. But of course there seems to be more to the story than her mother lets on about and the pair find excuses to stay around the house long enough be harassed by the hunchbacked handyman and hear and see apparitions of Yuko. I have to be honest, I am not really sure whatever happened to Sagawa now that I think about it. I will assume he was disposed of by the hunchback Genzo, but I can’t recall that ever being made clear, though Genzo does have a knack for violently accosting the male guests, including Sagawa. The appearance of Yuko is an effective mixture of Gothic vampire and Asian ghost, and is something is fairly common in Japanese and Asian horror these days, to the point of being a little trite in fact. But the image of the haunted, madly gazing ghost girl is something ingrained in Asian horror culture and in this film Yuko’s frightful appearance is most effective. Much more so than some of the newer Japanese ghost stories in my opinion, though some of the new stuff is okay too.


The weak point of the film is the ghastly (but not spooky ghastly) score by Riichiro Manabe, who has the dubious distinction of being TOHO’s worst film composer. The opening theme music is not too bad, but the rest of the film’s music is inappropriate and in particular the harpsichord parts. On this point the filmmakers should have let the Gothic mood alone as it sounds more like The Munsters at times than Dracula. But other than that issue –and it is a minor issue really- the film is a nice work and in some people’s view the best of the three films. The next two movies actually try to deal with a Dracula like vampire character and in doing so those stories became a tad bit campy, while Vampire Doll retains enough of the genuine feel of classic Japanese horror as to be a great film all on its own, with its references to British and old American horror classics being marginal at best. Reviews of the other two films in the works, so check back soon. Also noticed there were not many great images for this film online, so I made up a healthy little collection of screen captures for you to enjoy.





TRAILER FOR VAMPIRE DOLL

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