Release Date(s)1970/1971/1974 (May 22, 2018)
Studio(s)Toho (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: D+
- Overall Grade: B
Michio Yamamoto’s gothic horror three-way known as The Bloodthirsty Trilogy was released over the course of five years in Japan, but has been sorely underappreciated in the rest of the world ever since. Unlike most genre films that were released in their native country during that era, they demonstrate Eastern filmmakers being inspired by popular ventures from elsewhere, but through their own unique lenses. Far from the insanity of House and less traditional or folk tale-like than Kwaidan, they’re a unique stamp on Japanese filmmaking as a whole.
Things began with The Vampire Doll (aka Legacy of Dracula). After a young man comes calling on the woman he loves and disappears upon reaching her secluded home, his sister and her boyfriend are soon hot on his trail, fully intent on finding him and investigating the mysterious family history that haunts the home’s inhabitants. Less of a Dracula tale and more of a dramatic ghost story of sorts, the visuals and the atmosphere are key here, more so than the convoluted outcome of the plot. No actual on-screen vampiric activity takes place as it’s more implied, but the image of a ghostly young woman with yellow pupils, pleading with her victims to kill her, is rather stark. Mix that with a suitably creepy haunted house setting and old-fashioned lightning effects during thunderstorms and you have yourself an effective supernatural tale.
Next is Lake of Dracula, a more perfunctory story compared to the previous entry. It borrows much more from the Hammer Studios formula, specifically the character of Dracula and how he is portrayed, than the other two films. In it, a young woman who dreams of a childhood incident in which she witnessed something horrific finds herself terrorized by a mysterious man near her lakeside home. Things get progressively worse when her sister begins disappearing at random, but with the help of a local doctor who is treating patients for unexplained blood loss, they soon get to the bottom of things. The least-interesting of the three Bloodthirsty films by far, at least for me, Lake of Dracula has long stretches of nothing much happening outside an abundance of expository scenes. It’s also a case of the audience being way ahead of the characters and waiting for them to figure it out on their own. I fully admit that chills did indeed run down my spine more than one time while watching it, but those moments were fewer and further between than I wanted them to be.
Last but not least is Evil of Dracula, which falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. In this one, a newly-arrived teacher at an all-girls school finds himself investigating why the girls are disappearing one by one, as well as what the mysterious principal and his dead wife have to do with it. Like its predecessor, it retains the Hammer influence, but again, has great gaps of essentially no action and a lot of exposition. The difference this time is that the visuals are much stronger with greater scare value. The plot isn’t terribly difficult to figure out, but there’s one sequence late in the film involving a nude woman and the removal of her face that is one of the oddest and disconcerting things I’ve seen in a horror film as of late.
All of the films in this Blu-ray release have been outsourced from Toho, meaning that they undertook the restorations themselves from their vaulted film elements. The results, as per usual with these types of releases, are fairly outstanding. Grain levels are solid with strong detail, although the images have an inherent softness, particularly due to a few opticals here and there. Everything is reproduced well, including the color palette which features a variety of textured hues, including skin tones (whether they’re natural or vampiric pale). Black levels are deep with good shadow detail while brightness and contrast levels are practically perfect. These are also incredibly stable presentations with high encodes. The audio for each film is presented in the original Japanese mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English (which play automatically when you start each feature). Although they’re all understandably narrow, they’re also clean and clear with no hiss, crackle, or dropouts. Everything comes through well, including the dialogue and the musical scores. All in all, lovely presentations all around.
THE VAMPIRE DOLL (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/A-/B+
LAKE OF DRACULA (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C+/A-/B+
EVIL OF DRACULA (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/A-/B+
The extras for this release are brief but definitely worth a look. Disc One, which contains The Vampire Doll, includes Kim Newman on The Bloodthirsty Trilogy, a 16-minute featurette in which the author and critic delves into the history of Japanese horror films and The Bloodthirsty Trilogy’s odd place amongst them. Following that up are three theatrical trailers and three still galleries for all of the films, with 53 stills in total. Disc Two, which contains Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula, features the same three trailers. Also included is a 32-page insert booklet with the essay “Blood Lines: The Genealogy of Michio Yamamoto’s Bloodthirsty Trilogy” by Jasper Sharp, as well as restoration details.
Every film in this set is a gem. It’s a shame that there weren’t more films like these made in Japan. They’re fairly atypical but offer up plenty of interesting visuals and spooky environments. They’re not wholly original or difficult to comprehend, but they’re executed with an attractive style. Arrow Video’s release of The Bloodthirsty Trilogy is, for me at least, one of the finest discoveries they’ve had to offer lately. If you haven’t seen these films and you’re a die-hard horror fan, you owe it to yourself to check them out. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons