The Bloodthirsty Trilogy Box Set
Directed by Michio Yamamoto.
Starring Kayo Matsuo, Akira Nakao, Atsuo Nakamura, Shin Kishida, Midori Fujita, Chôei Takahashi, Sanae Emi, Toshio Kurosawa, and Yukiko Kobayashi.
Blu-ray box set of three Hammer-inspired Japanese vampire movies from the 1970s.
Made by Japan’s legendary Toho Studios – the company responsible for, amongst others, the classic Godzilla movies from the 1950s up to present day and the infamous Lone Wolf & Cub series – The Bloodthirsty Trilogy consists of three vampire movies that are unconnected plot-wise but share the same cast, crew and sets, and, probably more noticeably, they all come from a desire to emulate the horror movies of the time coming from the west, namely anything made by Hammer and AIP’s Roger Corman-directed Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.
The first film of the trilogy is The Vampire Doll (a.k.a. The Bloodsucking Doll, a.k.a. The Legacy of Dracula) from 1970 and this movie drops us straight into familiar territory if you’ve seen any Hammer vampire movie or Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher as Kazuhiko Sagawa (Atsuo Nakamura – 47 Ronin) travels to the isolated mansion of his fiancé Yuko (Yukiko Kobayashi) only to discover from her oddly behaved mother that Yuko is dead. When Sagawa does not return from the mansion his sister and her friend go looking for him and discover that Yuko may not be as dead as her mother seems to claim.
Lake of Dracula followed in 1971 and while it maintained the spooky air of The Vampire Doll it was less Gothic in tone and had a bit more action. Here, a girl named Akiko finds a corpse of a woman in an old, seemingly abandoned house and then spots a vampire with blood dripping from his mouth. Believing what she has seen to be a dream Akiko (Midori Fujita) continues to have visions as she grows up and 18 years later she lives by a lake where a coffin has been delivered to the local boat operator. Of course, it’s the same vampire from years before and it isn’t long before the bodies start piling up (and running around) as Akiko and her doctor boyfriend try to put an end to the killing.
And finally, Evil of Dracula followed in 1974 and went straight for the Hammer Dracula homage as Professor Shiraki (Toshio Kurosawa – Lady Snowblood) takes a job at an exclusive girls’ school where the mysterious principal (Shin Kishida – Shogun Assassin) admits he is looking for Shiraki to take over from him as his wife has recently died and he himself is very ill. The principal keeps the corpse of his wife in the cellar and tells Shiraki that it is the local custom to keep the bodies of the dead this way in the hope that they come back to life, which arouses Shiraki’s suspicions that something is off at the school, leading him to investigate further and discover that dead bodies coming back to life in this school is more common than you would think.
Thanks to a high-definition polish all three of these films look fantastic and with none of them running over 85 minutes you can easily breeze through all three in one sitting, which is quite handy as watching all three in succession is probably the best way to experience them rather than cherry picking, despite them being standalone films. Of the three it is Evil of Dracula that is the most fun and entertaining, giving more than a passing nod to the likes of Dracula and Lust for a Vampire – especially the energetic performance of Shin Kishida as the principal, who perfectly channels Christopher Lee in his body language and dramatic gestures – and ticking all the boxes when it comes to 1970s horror, i.e. blood, violence and nudity. The Vampire Doll is probably the creepiest of the trilogy, creating a gloomy atmosphere and maintaining it throughout with the pace barely deviating, and at 71 minutes long it doesn’t outstay its welcome but at the same time it does get under your skin with its dark mansion setting and the ghostly vampire make-up that looks like it would be a spoof of Japanese horror movies if it were made today – pale blue face, yellow eyes and plastic fangs – but this is the genuine article and has the desired effect nevertheless.
Which leaves Lake of Dracula as the lesser of the three, losing some of the Gothic splendour of the other two movies in favour of a more natural outside setting and action scenes that are well staged and fairly exciting but this means that the bits in between are less so, making the film uneven as a whole. However, the scenes with the vampire (again played by Shin Kishida) give the film enough of a chill factor to fit right in the middle between two slightly better movies without bringing down the trilogy as a whole.
As previously stated, all three films look gorgeous with pristine picture quality and the bright reds and pale blues looking particularly stark against the various backdrops of the lavish sets. The films all come with their original trailers and the only other extra on the disc is a short appraisal of the trilogy from author and critic Kim Newman, who gives a brief history on Japanese horror movies and how The Bloodthirsty Trilogy was inspired by the works of Terence Fisher and Roger Corman more than the traditional ghost stories from Japanese culture, although that influence is still there under all of the glamour. So overall, this neat little set is quite a fun little venture into Japanese horror, albeit with a western twist, and although it is a bit light on extras that give the films a bit more depth and context they are an entertaining watch and a worthy addition to the Arrow Video catalogue of cult films, of which they undoubtedly are.
The Vampire Doll – Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Lake of Dracula – Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Evil of Dracula – Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★