Saturday, July 9, 2011
Evil of Dracula (1974) review
EVIL OF DRACULA 1974 aka CHI O SU BARA (THE BLOODSUCKING ROSE)
Toshio Kurosawa (Mr. Shiraki), Shin Kishida (Principal/vampire), Kunie Tanaka (Doctor Shimura), Moriko Mochizuki (Kumi), Mika Katsuragi (vampire's wife), Katsuhiko Sasaki (Mr. Yoshi), Oota Mio (Yukiko), Aramaki Keiko (Kyoko)
Directed by Michio Yamamoto
The Short Version: The last and least of Yamamoto's triple threat of unusual vampire pictures hailing from Japan and bearing little resemblance to typical Japanese cinema. Nudity and extra gore are added here including a nasty bit of "facial surgery". While several elements are revisited from the previous movies, the back story is the most expansive of the two and also adapts ideas straight out of Stoker's novel. It's not as accomplished as the previous two entries, but well worth a look for vampire lovers and Japanese cinema aficionados.
Arriving at the Seimei Girl's School to take a job as a psychology professor, Mr. Shiraki meets the principal of the school who has lost his wife in a car accident a few days before. Asking Shiraki to take over as Principal of the establishment, the mysterious man offers that Shiraki stay the night at his home. The teacher accepts and later has an encounter with a woman bleeding from her breast and is attacked by another fanged female in a nightgown. Awakening the next morning, Shiraki assumes it was all just a nightmare. However, upon meeting the students and doctor Shimura, the professor discovers something sinister is taking place at the Seimei School and their lives as well as his own are in grave danger.
Yamamoto's "Bloodthirsty Trilogy" is the horror version of Sergio Leone's so called "Dollars Trilogy", but where that series ended with a big bang, Toho's trifecta of terror ends on a lesser note in terms of quality. LAKE OF DRACULA was unusually well made and for whatever reason, the filmmakers were unable to capitalize on that films ingenuity by closing out the series with a fabulous finale. Instead, Yamamoto and returning scriptwriter, Ei Ogawa refurbish elements from the previous two movies, utilizing the setting of Hammer's anemic LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971) and also indulge in widening the scope of the story. The plot is easily the most ambitious of the three productions, but whether due to monetary reasons, or studio interference, EVIL OF DRACULA loses too much blood and fails to revive before the extended fight to the finish during the closing moments.
There's more characters, more backstory, more vampires and more blood. But even with all these added bells and whistles the finished product feels a bit rushed in places. There's a certain degree of care taken with portions of the film, but sloppiness is in evidence elsewhere. By this time in Japan, production studios had resorted to stirring a boiling pot of untamed ingredients in an effort to satiate a starving audience that had taken to television to satisfy their hunger. To do this, an increase in sex and violence was injected in addition to a whirlwind of exasperatingly creative themes and ideas. Like Hammer's then flagging style of horror, EVIL OF DRACULA, with its increase in brutality, seems lost among the blood splattered arena populated with LONE WOLF, Sonny Chiba, the FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION and the wacky world of Teruo Ishii.
It's not nearly as bestial as some of those above mentioned movies and associated personalities, but the attempt to mimic Hammer's gamble to maintain the attention of a weary viewership by adding more gore and bare flesh is noticeable. Not only are there many scenes of nubile Nipponese lovelies parading around in diaphanous gowns showing some skin, but the vampires conduct their business below the neck this time out--from the jugular to the mammaries. The setting at the girls school secretly run by two "Vampire Lovers" is a curious nod to the aforementioned LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, one of the least interesting of all of Hammer's output. With the addition of breast biting the gore is increased with a nasty scene that barely escapes being nothing more than crass exploitation. In it, the Principal's vampire bride wishes to put the bite on Shiraki. To do this, she decides to gorily cut the face off of one of the girls and attach it to her own! The grimness of the scene is accentuated by seeing the shadow of the crude procedures aftermath on a wall where the image of a crow is seen pecking away at the dead girls mutilated face.
The way the film repeats various shocks and horror set ups from the previous movies shows the makers were having trouble squeezing more plasma from the central character in a fresh manner. Not only that, but on more than one occasion, the picture seems clueless about which direction to take and even when to end things. The conclusion itself is strained in its effort to reach the 80 minute mark. The fight with the vampires goes on longer and is more extravagant in terms of how many walls, windows and furniture are broken, but it seems more out of desperation than necessity. The first two movies were successful in their ability to capture a palpable sense of dread emanating from the encompassing feeling of isolation. EVIL OF DRACULA manages that as well, but only fleetingly and must also resort to making the connection through dialog as opposed to capturing desolation visually.
Mori Kishida is less imposing here and unlike the previous movie where he never utters a word till the end, his character (once more a nameless monster who is only referred to as 'the Principal') this time out is cunning in that he covertly hides his animalistic nature till opportunity presents itself. At the end when Kishida once more lets loose his vampiric personality, he's less fearsome than before, almost a parody of the savage monster he played in LAKE OF DRACULA. That's not to say Kishida's performance isn't convincing, only not nearly as effective as the earlier movie. He hisses and snarls far too much. He excels in one sequence where his characters deceptive nature comes into play when the police pay him a visit after a particularly raucous evening leaves a girl dead and another person missing.
One area the film surpasses the others is in its scope. While he's not called by name, an ancient tale is unraveled that a white man shipwrecked on Japan's shores 200 hundred years ago was tortured for being a Christian. Denouncing his god and invoking the devil, the foreigner was banished to the desert where he was forced to drink his own blood to survive. Kidnapping a 15 year old Japanese girl, the foreigner disappeared back into the desert wilderness with his soon to be vampire bride. While it isn't made clear till the final scene, these two "Japanese" bloodsuckers have evaded detection by gruesomely assimilating the identities of their victims as described a few paragraphs up. While never referred to as Dracula, this major plot point is the most blatant connection to Stoker's novel. Another story idea borrowed from Stoker is the inclusion of a previous teacher who was driven mad and imprisoned within an asylum. Shiraki pays the man a visit in an effort to learn more information about the sinister Principal.
Riichiro Manabe's score is lackluster with only the opening and closing themes being remotely interesting. The rest is an abrasive mix of inharmonious sounds thrown together. It sounds like an experimental score, but fails at every turn although the ghostly concluding theme is the sole cue that captures a Japanese flavor. Toshio Kurosawa bore an uncanny resemblance to Sonny Chiba and he can be seen in such fare as LADY SNOWBLOOD (1973), HANZO, THE RAZOR: THE SNARE (1974) and PROPHECIES OF NOSTRODAMUS (1974). He also played the main villain in Chang Cheh's THE WATER MARGIN (1972), his features hidden beneath a hair piece and goatee. Katsuhiko Sasaki is the entranced vampire servant, Yoshi, the French literature teacher who frequently spouts macabre poetry. Sasaki was featured in both GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973) and TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975). It should also be noted that all three Japanese DVD's of these films have commentary tracks.
Even though it expands on themes and territory explored in the previous two movies, EVIL OF DRACULA comes up short even repeating shots from its predecessors--a vampirized girl falls over a ledge, a wailing chant is heard in the distance and explored leading to the protagonist receiving an inexplicable bump on the head, thunderstorms, a doctor of science proficient in folklore and Mori Kishida dressing the same as he did in LAKE OF DRACULA. Breaking no new ground and bearing a pallid complexion next to the first two films, this average third picture is still worth seeing especially to lovers of vampire movies and those tolerant of Hammer's 70s output.
The subtitled DVD-R which uses the superior Japanese DVD as a source, can be purchased HERE.