My notes on Toho’s The Bloodthirsty Trilogy
Yûrei yashiki no kyôfu: Chi wo sû ningyô (The Vampire Doll) (1970)
Japan’s Toho pictures had director Michio Yamamoto make three vampire movies in the early 1970s which are bracketed together as the ‘Bloodthirsty Trilogy’. Actually, this first entry is a standalone, not featuring the Westernised Japanese Dracula figure who appears in Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula. The original foreign release handle was The Vampire Doll, which has been amended in later releases to Legacy of Dracula The Bloodthirsty Doll to emphasise its kinship with the other films.
Though it features a vampire of sorts, this seems most like a Japanese take on Roger Corman’s Poe films. In an opening which echoes The Fall of the House of Usher, a young man (Atsuo Nakamura) visits his girlfriend’s isolated house because she hasn’t been in touch and is told by her strange mother (Yoko Minazake) that she has died. However, the red-haired, white-faced, green-eyed, bloody-handed Yuko (Yukiko Kobayashi) appears to him, evidently with evil intent. Then we cut to the youth’s sensitive sister (Kayo Matsuo), who has been dreaming all this, and she persuades her boyfriend (Akira Nakao) to help her investigate. The set-up turns out to be a complex variation on ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar’ in that the mass-murdering rapist who fathered Yuko also hypnotised her on the point of death, prompting her to take on a vicious new identity as the ‘vampire doll’. It ends in typical family tragedy fashion with a burst of blood from the villain’s throat and the dead girl rotting on the carpet as survivors inhabit their own light patches in the gloomy widescreen frame.
Kobayashi has a genuinely unsettling presence, stranded between the Western notions of Madeline Usher and Carmilla and the traditional Japanese vengeful girl ghost, and there’s an interesting attempt to evoke Western horror films by having the characters live in a house full of European antiques while a harpsichord tinkles on the soundtrack. Some elements (a sharp-toothed halfwit minion, lengthy explanatory speeches) are cliche to the point of being comical and simple acceptance of the fact that the heroine has dreamed the first act accurately makes the hero’s disbelief of other supernatural elements seem unreasonable. It’s not a long film, but it has its share of deadweight wandering-in-the-dark material – nevertheless, it’s a fascinating genre hybrid.
Noroi no yakata: Chi o suu me (Lake of Dracula) (1971)
The Bloodthirsty Doll evokes Hammer and Corman’s Poe films, but presents a vampire in the image of a Far Eastern ghost girl, a pale-faced, dark-haired malevolent spirit. Secondary characters here conform to that stereotype, but the villain (Mori Kishida) is a Dracula-style fanged predator whose various attacks are modelled on Christopher Lee’s Hammer Count, though the script seems less clear that the sub-titles as to whether he’s the half-Japanese descendant of Dracula himself or merely of some generic ‘foreign’ vampire lineage. Carried over from the Vampire Doll are the monster’s glowing golden eyes.
It opens with another dream/reality confusion. As a child, heroine Akiko is led by her dog from the shore of a lake to another old Wesrern-style house, where she finds a piano-playing dead woman, an ancient Westerner (played by a Japanese actor) and the vampire, whose eyes later inspire the grown-up woman (Midori Fujita) to paint a sinister picture of an evil orb. Akiko has told herself all these years that this was a dream, but we know better. A sensitive soul, she lives near the eponymous lake with her more modern, subtly jealous sister Natsuko (Sanae Emi). The Vampire serially seduces and converts women to undeath, and naturally targets the Lucy-like Natsuko – who transforms from mod gear and bobbed hair to the traditional shrouds and hanging curtain — before homing in on the woman he feels is his destined bride. The hero is a sceptical doctor (Osahide Takahashi), who holds out until the last in his belief that the villain is a hypnotist rather than a real monster.
The film is often striking. Kishida has a distinctive costume – a white polo-neck which looks a little like a priest’s collar, a Christopher Lee black cloak augmented by a long white scarf (as worn by the similar villain of Nobuo Nakagawa’s Onna Kyuketsuki/The Lady Vampire, an obvious precedent for these films). The storyline is straightforward, but the emotional currents are complex – when under the vampire’s influence, a local handyman (the Renfield type) and Natsuko both act on formerly suppressed desires and resentments as they attack the heroine. The finish is very Hammer-like, as the vampire is shoved off a first-floor landing and falls on a shard of broken furniture then moulds away to a gruesome mess.
Chi o suu bara(Evil of Dracula) (1974)
The third and last of Toho’s bloodthirsty trilogy brings back star Mori Kishida and has him dress as he does in Lake of Dracula – though his Ralph Bates hairdo is a bit more bouffant – but offers an unconnected storyline. Drawing heavily on the imagery of Hammer Films and Roger Corman, with some scenes restaged from Terence Fisher’s filmography, this still offers a unique take on the vampire sub-genre. Made a few years later, it also takes in elements from 1970s Hammers like Lust for a Vampire or The Satanic Rites of Dracula – nudity, plentiful gore, a nastier edge.
A new teacher (Toshio Kurosawa) arrives at an isolated school for mature-looking girls and is immediately suspicious of the pale-faced Principal (Kishida), who wears that distinctive white scarf instead of the traditional cape and keeps the corpse of his recently-killed wife (Mika Katsuragi) in the basement. After an encounter with the vampire wife, the hero settles into his job, becoming the subject of several schoolgirl crushes, and the Principal spreads the curse throughout the school population. A bizarre flashback traces the trouble to a bearded Western castaway who was forced to reject Christianity and drink his own blood while wandering in a desert and then subjected a local girl to vampire attack: it turns out that this interloper has either been possessing a series of principals down through the years or, as his wife/original victim does with a pupil, slicing off and wearing their faces.
There are peculiar, surreal/romantic touches: the Johnny Alucard-type disciple character (Katsuhiro Sasaki) is a Beaudelaire-quoting decadent schoolmaster, much is made of the vampire’s white roses which turn red when the recipient of the flower’s scratch finally dies, and there’s a tastefully-staged bloody murder as the vampire wife cuts the face off a naked girl and wears it like a mask. It ends in a necro-romantic spin on the Hammer finish with the impaled vampire lovers holding hands as they age rapidly and dissolve to messy skeletons.
I treasure this release and revisit three or four times a year. The Vampire Doll provides such a wonderful escape from the daily grind.