This release brings together three horror films made in the early 1970s by Michio Yamamoto for Toho Studios. These Japanese takes on the vampire myth were heavily inspired by Hammer, with some Bava and Corman’s Poe cycle in there too. This leaves us with a thematically linked trilogy of films that are decidedly Western-influenced and as such an interesting anomaly in Japanese horror cinema. The films still incorporate more traditional influences from Japan, particularly the country's ghost stories. They also do something Western cinema was very much into at that time as well, updating the tropes of gothic horror and the Dracula story into the present day.
First is 1970’s The Vampire Doll, a mix of British gothic, Poe and Bava and the best film. Like Hammer’s 1958 Dracula it’s an elegantly brief reworking of many of the themes of the well-told classics but unlike that film, there’s no Count or surrogate here. Instead, it’s a mix of vampire lore and themes and imagery that could comfortably sit in an Italian horror of the period. It’s a deft and entertaining mix of all of its influences. Not quite as successful is 1971’s Lake of Dracula which takes a similar approach but is less creative and more straightforward, despite the inevitable novelty of the setting. The trilogy is completed with 1974’s Evil of Dracula, with a stronger European influence in its tale of breast-biting, boarding school-dwelling vampires. Both films are still strong and enjoyable entries. All of them benefit from likeable characters and strong performances and they are frequently beautifully composed and full of great imagery. If you’re into Japanese horror or British and American gothic horror classics (or both) you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the depth and variety of extras on other recent releases as this one comes with only one substantial additional feature, as well as trailers and a stills gallery (and for early purchasers a limited-edition booklet). It’s a good one, however, with estimable genre expert Kim Newman appearing in a video piece (16 mins) to provide some context for these films and as ever, his knowledge and insight is welcome and valuable. And for those who want these films, they are presented here in fine HD fashion, which is important given how visually arresting they are. The prints are clear and sharp and show off Yamamoto’s interesting experiments with those Western influences and the strong cinematography and production design throughout. It’s a solid package and for fans of the films a welcome opportunity to be reacquainted with the trilogy. For anyone new to them, for now, at least, you won’t find a better package.
THE BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: MICHIO YAMAMOTO / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: KAYO MATSUO, AKIRA NAKAO / RELEASE DATE: MAY 14TH