Sunday, December 4, 2016

Evil of Dracula (1974)

Original title: Chi o suu bara

aka The Bloodthirsty Roses

Shiraki (Toshio Kurosawa) comes to what the film calls “the bleak north” of Japan as the new psychology teacher of a boarding school for young women, shortly before the term break. It’s not an ideal time for such an arrival: the principal’s (Shin Kishida) wife (Mika Katsuragi) has died in a car accident, her body laid out in the cellar of the creepy western style mansion next to the school where she and her husband lived. The Principal explains this rather un-Japanese treatment of the body with a local custom that sees the bereft praying for a dead person’s revival for a week before cremation.

The Principal has other news for Shiraki too. He has decided the young teacher is to be his successor at the school in a few months or so. Shiraki’s understandably confused by this, as much as he is by his new boss’s insistence on him spending a night at the mansion before he moves into his own room in the school building. That night, Shiraki has a dream in which he is accosted by blue-faced women in nightgowns – one of whom looks a lot like the portrait of the Principal’s wife hanging in the mansion – who clearly (and perhaps disappointingly) have nothing good for him in mind.

If this experience has indeed been a dream is a question Shiraki will increasingly ask himself, for it seems connected to all kinds of strangeness going on at the boarding school. That one of the other teachers is a creep who likes to creepily stare at the students while dramatically – as well as creepily - quoting Baudelaire might be explained by this being a Japanese movie. But what is Shiraki to make of the tales the local doctor Shimomura (Kunie Tanaka) tells him about the place? Apparently, every year, one or two students of the school just disappear without a trace, and nobody seems to care all that much. And that’s just the beginning of it – this year’s disappeared girl looks exactly like one of the women from Shiraki’s dream. Shimomura also has some curious ideas about vampire legends of the area to share, as well as tales of the curious fact that the principals change rather regularly here but every new principal changes his behaviour radically once he is in the new job and starts acting a lot like his predecessor. Well, except for that one guy who just went crazy and is spending the rest of his life institutionalized. It’s all rather confounding and disconcerting to Shiraki, and becomes even more so when some of the students are getting stalked and attacked by someone who looks a lot like the Principal.

Evil of Dracula is the final film of Toho’s and director Michio Yamamoto’s western vampire aka “Bloodthirsty” trilogy. Where the first two seem to be closely related to Italian gothic horror, this one’s trying to split the difference between the Italian approach and Hammer’s style of the gothic. Particularly Kishida as the main vampire is heavily indebted to the Christopher Lee version of Dracula, ticking off all the check marks on the Christopher Lee Dracula scale: not a seducer but a rapist, likes to snarl and look pissed off at the slightest provocation, and is generally a physical threat as much as a spiritual one.

Evil’s vampirism is more sexualized again than it was in its successor, with the victims in general, once bitten, clearly having a rather pleasant time of it, while Mrs Principal prefers to suck the blood of young women from a point slightly above their breasts (providing the film also with a decent opportunity for some rather more artsy than sleazy looking breast shots). Getting bitten by a vampire still means instant Renfieldisation, too, so the film also keeps his predecessor's paranoia motives to a degree. It is, however, a less personal kind of paranoia here because nobody is quite as close as a sister to anyone else here, and the film doesn’t put its emphasis there.

Rather, this one returns to the mystery influences of the first film, concerning itself mainly with Shiraki, Shimomura and the - alas weakly drawn and rather uninteresting - female main character Kumi (Mariko Mochizuki) trying to puzzle out what exactly the vampires are planning, and how.

And the how turns out to be really rather interesting and creepy, involving a technique to take over someone else’s life I’ve certainly never seen in any other vampire movie, Japanese or western. It’s also a method not to be spoiled for the first time viewer.

Otherwise, Yamamoto still follows the method that worked out so well for him in the first two films and shoots contemporary surroundings in the style of gothic horror, doubling down when it comes to the obligatory creepy mansion. So shadows and the air of a dream abound, people act irrationally, and the irrational acts upon them. It’s all rather fitting to a series of films among whose recurring motives is their characters’ difficulty to discern dream from reality.

Most of this is atmospheric and effective, particularly the film’s final third providing one great moment after the other, Yamamoto regularly adding little flourishes like the Principal’s habit of sending his victims white roses that turn red once he’s killed them. It’s not a film for anyone who needs to have a plot or characters which work logically but I’d argue all three of Yamamoto’s vampire movies would be poorer for the addition of workaday logic, for they’d stopped being dreams.

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