Thursday, October 29, 2015

Cool Ass Cinema Presents: An Interview with Actress, Lone Fleming

American Fantastic Cinema has a long list of actresses made famous through their work in horror films and genres that share kinship with them. Such actresses as Fay Wray, Evelyn Ankers, Allison Hayes, Adrienne Barbeau, Jaime Lee Curtis, Linnea Quigley, and Danielle Harris have a special place in the hearts of horror fans for their contributions to the art of screaming, running and being the last woman standing. Like America, European countries like Great Britain, France and Spain have their own unique heritage of horror and the Scream Queen's that aided immeasurably in keeping those films alive decades after they were made. One such actress is Lone Fleming, the Spanish Cinema's Jaime Lee Curtis. You will know her from such films as TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971), RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD (1973) and A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL (1973) to name three. She has the distinction of realizing a dream in show business not once, but twice, as she's currently enjoying a massive resurgence in film led by a devoted clutch of young directors who grew up with her work just as this writer has. The following is an interview with Mrs. Fleming who was kind enough to take time out of her extremely busy schedule to discuss her career from the beginning to today.

Venoms5: At what point in your life did you become interested in being an actress?

Lone Fleming: When I was a child, a real Tomboy, by the way, I always wanted to become either a nurse or an actress. Over time I have often wondered what these 2 things had to do with each other, lol. I did try studying to become a nurse, but I was hopeless at mathematics so that was out. Later I studied theater for one year with an American professor and was supposed to go into the theater. I was 15 years old at this time. But instead, I chose to travel and work. I said to my mother if I was to become an actress, I could do it no matter where I was. Mind you, I have done crazy things in my life, but somehow I always had luck on my side. The first thing I did on my travels was to go to Germany with some friend's and sing on the streets! We were in East Germany having a look and got picked up by the police (laughs). I think they could see we were not spies, but we did spend one night in jail (laughs). Anyway, they escorted us out of Magdeburg in East Germany the next day. At that age I thought it was great fun!

V5: How did you meet your husband, film director Eugenio Martin? 

LF: I met Eugenio the first time in the film, THE FOURTH VICTIM (1971; aka LA ULTIMA SENORA ANDERSON [THE LAST MRS. ANDERSON]) with Carroll Baker and Michael Craig. At that point, prior to shooting that one, I was about to go back home to Denmark. I was struggling to get roles. It was very difficult for me. I lived with an English girl, and we both were thinking of going back home. But then came the offer for LA ULTIMA SENORA ANDERSON. Eugenio thought I should stay in Spain and pursue acting there. I did, and little by little I started to get more work and things got better. But it was always a struggle; and when you love what you do, you can handle everything.

V5: What was the experience like being directed by your husband?

LF: Eugenio is a very good Director as he has shown throughout his career. A great Director of actors. He always took his time to talk and listen to them, to discuss their feelings, how they felt, about how to play the role. I did learn a lot with him. I only did 4 film´s with Eugenio, I think.

Lone as Conchita in BAD MAN'S RIVER (1971).
V5: Do you have any memories of working with Lee Van Cleef on EL HOMBRE DE RIO MALO (BAD MAN'S RIVER [1971])?

LF: I had a great time working on that film. Being Danish, it was a real challenge playing a Mexican character; and I loved the role, it was a great deal of fun. Lee Van Cleef was a very nice person, but I didn't really get to see him much so I can't tell much about him.

Lone (right) antagonizes Aurora Bautista in A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL (1973).
V5: UNA VELA PARA EL DIABLO (A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL [1973]) is one of your best roles and one of your husband's best films. What did you think of the script and the character you played?

LF: The story for UNA VELA PARA EL DIABLO came to Eugenio from an image he had from childhood. In Granada at that time people were very fanatical. I thought the script was fantastic. It tells so much how Fanaticism can turn to evil, using God's name. Nothing has changed one need only look at the world today. My character was myself, lol! I loved playing that role.

V5: Where was it filmed? The setting in that village surrounded by mountains was extraordinary.

LF: The pueblo where we shot that was in Grazalema, a beautiful place and it hasn't changed much.

V5: Considering the subject matter and the time in which it was produced, were there censorship problems getting this film made?

LF:  The censorship came after the film was shot. And yes, Eugenio had problems with it. I can't remember what exactly.

V5: In between the titles discussed above, your husband directed PANICO EN EL TRANSIBERIANO (HORROR EXPRESS [1972]). Were you offered a part in this picture? It has a large following in the USA. 

LF: No, I was not offered a role In PANICO EN EN TRANSIBERIANO. At that time Eugenio was making that one I was in Denmark for a while. 

The Blind Dead seek their next victim.

V5: Your most famous role was the lead in LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO (TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD [1971]). Can you tell me how this project came about?

LF: The usual way. I had an agent, and I think Amando had seen me in an advertisement and called me in through my agent. I was so happy because I got to shoot with my best friend at that time, Cesar Bonet, and Pepe Tellman. We had met while working in Bilbao, and Cesar got me into photo novellas, which was very popular at that time; and that is how I started on that one.  

V5: Do you have some memories of working on this film you could share? Was the rape scene particularly difficult to do?

LF: We had great fun shooting the rape scene. I have a lot of memories making this film. We were all together, the actors, and the crew for three weeks--we were all like family. As for the rape scene, Pepe had to hit me (laughs). He just couldn't bring himself to hit me hard enough, only a little smack. We had to do four takes and Amando was shouting, "HIT her for God's sake!" So just before they said action..... I bit Pepe quite hard on his arm and then he really hit me (laughs)! Also, Amando said they had to see my underpants being taken off! I said "No way....." Amando then said to me to think about how I could do it. I went to get a pair of white, and skin colored underpants and put them both on. So then Pepe took the white underpants down and problem solved (laughs)

Lone and Maria Elena Arpon
Also the lesbian scene was fun. Amando told us to do this scene yet he had never seen lesbians interact. We said us neither. He told us to invent something. So I told him to go and get a bottle of wine. Elena and I drank half a bottle each. We both got a little tipsy, so you see the scene came out perfect. I think it is rather beautiful.

Lone and Cesar Bonet (Cesar Burner) in TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971).

V5: You mentioned Cesar Bonet (Cesar Burner) being your closest friend. What became of him?

LF: Cesar was a very dear friend for many years. At one point he became my agent, too. But then he fell ill and later died of cancer. I lost track of Pepe (Jose Thelman) and Elena (Maria Elena Arpon), unfortunately.

V5: Anton Garcia Abril's Blind Dead music is fantastic.

LF: I think half the film's success is due to his music. I saw him again two years ago in Tenerife (largest and most populated of the seven Canary Islands) where they were paying tribute to him. I told him how perfect his score was on LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO. It's a shame it's not on CD.

V5: How was LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO received by Spanish audiences and critics at that time?

LF: The film was well received in Spain but nothing like it was all over the world. In Germany that year it was a number one hit, as it was in many other countries. Here in Spain it has since become a cult film. The 29th of this month I am going to a Festival in La Coruña, Amando's home town. They are doing a special Festival for him and I am going to receive an award as well.

V5: How was your experience working for director Amando de Ossorio on both this film and its sequel EL ATAQUES DE LOS MUERTOS SIN OJOS (THE ATTACK OF THE BLIND DEAD)?

LF: Working with Amando in NIGHT OF THE BLIND TERROR was a little different from the second film because of the hard work involved with the Templars. Amando put all his energies into directing the many scenes with them. It was a very hard job. But he was easygoing directing the actors. He came with his fantastic drawings to show us what he wanted. Amando was tireless. We all loved to work with him in this film. Most of it was shot in a small village near Setubal, Portugal. There was this marvelous half ruins of a monastery.

Lone Fleming prepares to battle the Templars. Esperanza Roy at left.

V5: You worked with Esperanza Roy again in EL ATAQUES DE LOS MUERTOS SIN OJOS (1973).

LF: Her role was much too thin for such a good actress. Esperanza has always been a great friend to me ever since I first started in the cinema. As for me, my part was much smaller from the first picture. The result wasn't as good as LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO. I did like my death scene, though (laughs)

V5: You worked with Ossorio again on LA ENDEMONIADA (DEMON WITCH CHILD [1975]). How was working on this picture compared to the BLIND DEAD films?

LF: LA ENDEMONIADA, I thought my role was very bland (laughs). There was nothing to hold onto! Everything was built around Marian Salgado, The Witch Child of the title. She did a great job, and it was very hard for her, especially with all the makeup. We became great friends after we finished working on the film, but then I lost track of her. Then, three years ago I found her on Facebook, and have become friends again. She and I work together with Sandra Alberti and Loreta Tovar in the short film, EL ULTIMO GUION (2015;THE LAST SCRIPT); also with Antonio Mayans and a great actor named Jose Linfante. It is directed by a friend of mine, David Garcia. This was his dream to do this and he has finally done it. As for filming LA ENDEMONIADA, there were lots of actors in this one and in a film like that, you go to work and you go home when finished shooting. 

Lone Fleming (left) and Julia Saly (right)

V5: You worked with fellow Scream Queen Julia Saly on this film and again on Paul Naschy's EL ULTIMO KAMIKAZE (1984). What was she like to work with and what became of her?

LF: Julia Saly was very kind and easy to work with. I didn't get to know her well on Amando's LA ENDEMONIADA nor EL ULTIMO KAMIKAZE. The second title was the only film I did with Paul Naschy, but we got along fine both times. I don't think I ever had a problem with any actors.

V5: Regarding EL ULTIMO KAMIKAZE, what was it like being directed by Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina)?

LF: It was a small role, so I really didn't get to know him well. Later I got to know him a little more in Film festivals, along with his wife, Elvira, and son, Sergio Molina. But as far as being directed by Paul Naschy, he always knew what he wanted.

V5: You stopped making movies in the mid 1980s, but your career has had a resurgence in the last couple of years. How did you get interested in making movies again?

LF: Funny enough, I never thought of working in movies again. I never for one second thought I was going to be remembered! So when I got my computer and went onto Facebook, I was very surprised to see I had so many fans all over the world. And then young directors began to ask me if I wanted to play roles again, and so it started. And I have also written some short story for movies--one of which has been shot, although I don't know what happened after the shooting. Next year we will shoot another story of mine, and I have two more waiting. 

V5: Can you tell me about some of these new projects you're working on including a new BLIND DEAD film and the 2015 remake of Jose Larraz's VAMPYRES (1974) you're starring in with Caroline Munro?

LF: Since I've gotten back into filming I've been working with young Directors; which has been a great experience, as I got to know digital filmmaking. It really is amazing how you can shoot today with a small camera. The first time I did it I was a little nervous. I was used to having a big camera in front of me and lots of lights. But you soon get used to it--you just forget there's a camera (laughs). So now I've worked in short films and documentaries in addition to full-length features. 

The first thing I shot when I began working in film again was a documentary by Jose Manuel Cueto called "AGAINST TIME", or CONTRA EL TIEMPO, which almost won a Goya. This was a documentary of interviews with actors from my time. It's very interesting, about how they felt growing older and not working anymore. On the new VAMPYRES (2015), it was very nice to work with Caroline Munro as I knew her the first time from a festival here in Spain 2 or 3 years ago. We got on fantastic, though it was only for a short time on that one. I have worked with Victor Matellano in a documentary, on the motion picture called WAX (2014) and again in VAMPYRES. He has become a good friend. I'm also in a documentary for Luis Esquina called SIMON'S JIGSAW, about film director Juan Piquer Simon. This is presented in Sitges this year. I am working with Cesar del Alamo on my second full-length terror film with him called RENACIDO (THE REBORN). Then a Short film with Angel Gomez titled BEHIND, also with Macarena Gomez, a very good and well known Spanish actress. And lastly, our short film, THE LAST SCRIPT from director David Garcia who has had this dream of the returning of the Templar's. The Templar's costume is just fantastic, too.


V5: Considering your international popularity as a Scream Queen, do you enjoy watching horror movies, and if so do you have any favorites?

LF: Funny enough, my favorite horror film is ALIEN. For a long time I didn't want to see it. But one day I saw the first film and I got totally hooked! Over the course of three days I saw the rest. I just couldn't stop. Also I love the Dracula with Frank Langella from 1979. I thought it was a beautiful film.

V5: Throughout your film career you've done other types of films besides horror. Out of everything you've done thus far, is there one picture you're especially proud of and why? 

LF: Films I am proud to have done..... NIGHT OF BLIND TERROR, of course. My Mexican role in Eugenio's western, EL HOMBRE DE RIO MALO.... and also one of the first roles I did as a Spanish woman in a Comedy called PIERNAS CRECIENTES FALDAS MENGUANTE; this was a very good role for me where I was playing a young girl who married a count.

V5: Last question, what is the one thing you'd like to be remembered for--film related or otherwise? 

LF: I would like to be remembered for myself, the person I am.

I would like to once again thank Mrs. Fleming for participating in this interview and being so kind as to devote a lot of her time to answering my questions. She has her own website that includes her current projects, which you can find by clicking HERE


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Return of the Evil Dead (1973) review


Tony Kendall (Jack), Esperanza Roy (Vivian), Fernando Sancho (Mayor Duncan), Frank Brana (Dacosta), Jose Canalejas (Murdo), Ramon Lillo (Beirao), Lone Fleming (Amalia), Loreta Tovar (Moncha), Juan (Jose Thelman), Maria Nuria (Amalia's daughter)

Directed by Amando De Ossorio

***WARNING! This review contains B/W stills with nudity***

The Short Version: The eyeless living dead are back from the grave and ready to party in what is sort of the 'Disaster Movie' of the Blind Dead series. Director Ossorio amasses a bunch of familiar genre faces and puts them in grave danger, killing them off one at the time in a plot eerily similar to one by a certain John Carpenter from 1979. The reliance on mood and fear in TOMBS is replaced with action and gore in the RETURN. There are some things that improve on Ossorio's first, but overall this energetic sequel finishes a close second behind it. ATTACK is to TOMBS what ALIENS was to ALIEN. A highpoint in European horror and, like its predecessor, a must-see for horror enthusiasts.

A village in Bouzano, Portugal is celebrating the 500 year anniversary of the extermination of the Templar Knights, a bloodthirsty, devil-worshiping cult captured and executed by villagers in the 14th century. The day of the celebration, Murdo, the town cripple, ridiculed by the villagers, sacrifices a young woman in the graveyard of the Templars. Spilling her blood, Murdo resurrects the blind dead knights who set upon the village, slaughtering the attendees. A small group of survivors manage to hole up in a church in an effort to see daylight and outlast the Attack of the Blind Dead.

The eyeless living dead return via the direction of their creator, Amando de Ossorio, in a more action-oriented, macho sequel to the classic TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971). As the director has stated, the four films are stand-alone features, with none of the entries carrying on from the one before it. This sequel, like the others, gives an alternate origin of the title zombies. Instead of being hanged and crows pecking out their eyes, the Templars here have their orbs burned out and their bodies set aflame. 

Focusing on an action-horror scenario, Ossorio crams as much of it as his meager budget will allow. The sequence where the Templars assail the village and kill the inhabitants, for example, the director includes a well-shot scene where the remaining civilians escape in a jeep, narrowly finding safety in a church as the blood-drinking marauders give chase. Ossorio then taps into the siege aspect immortalized in George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). It had been done before in many movies, but Romero's NIGHT is what solidified it for the horror genre. It's difficult to watch this film and not think of the classic 1968 zombie movie. 

It's also difficult to watch Ossorio's movie and not be reminded of John Carpenter's THE FOG (1979), as it would appear Carpenter may have been influenced by it for his exceptional spook masterpiece. Ossorio's script detailing a village celebration of a past incident and the living dead returning for revenge is the same narrative thrust of Carpenter's picture. The scene where the Templars pound on a door for the occupants to open up feels eerily familiar to Carpenter's zombie pirates doing the same thing. The next blind zombie movie, THE GHOST GALLEON (1974), featured a ghost ship encased in an unholy fog, so it's possible the king of Halloween may have been inspired by that one as well.

As ambitious as BLIND DEAD #2 is, the film is hampered by a reliance on stock footage from the first movie. Virtually all the Templar riding scenes (and some of them shuffling around) are lifted from TOMBS. The eerie slow-motion of the skeletal crusaders is tossed out in favor of normal speed Templars on horseback. While they move as slow as before, when they ride around swinging their swords, they do so with enough verve and motion to lessen some of the impact the creepingly inert movements gave them the first time around.

Aside from an all new origin and situation for the zombies to attack, Ossorio gives the audience some little things we didn't see in his earlier work. Most notable is that we get a peek at the head of one of the Templarian equines in all its rotted, decomposed glory. Elsewhere, the Templars are fitted with these metallic-looking gauntlet's, a more elaborate ensemble addition when compared to the silly looking mittens some of them sported in the first movie. Unfortunately, we don't see near as many of the bony, outstretched arms gripping and clutching as we did before. A preference for sword-swinging takes their place. Again, this goes back to the sequel's agenda being more about action and motion than horror and tension.

In addition to action, something else there's more of is gore. TOMBS had some shocker moments (particularly the flashback sacrifice sequence), but Ossorio's original was all about setting a mood while his second installment jettisons all that and goes for the throat. Limbs are severed, heads are hacked off, and hearts are ripped from bosomy chests and, in one instance, eaten by one of the nasty knights during a flashback sequence.

There's one other thing Ossorio put into his film that isn't in any of the others in this series, and that's some lightly comical moments (barring the unintentional kind found in the third picture, THE GHOST GALLEON). The funny business is during the bits where the Mayor (played by prolific Italian western favorite, Fernando Sancho) calls his superior to alert him of the encroaching Templars and requests the Army. Naturally, Mayor Duncan is accused of having a bit too much to drink.

Anton Garcia Abril's monumentally macabre score is back with some minor additions. It's effectiveness is slightly subdued by the onslaught of action-oriented horror, but it's still one of the genres best scores, as under-appreciated as it is. The lighter cues complement the brooding, unforgettably terrifying main Templar theme.

As for the performers, this is Tony Kendall's movie with Esperanza Roy basically playing the part Fleming essayed the first time around, but with some obvious differences. Born in Italy as Luciano Stella and later changing his name to Tony Kendall, the model turned actor dove into the genre pool of popular cinema of the 60s and 70s. Having played heroes in Sword and Sandal, European Westerns and Eurospy movies, the late actor (he passed away in 2009) applied his Tough Guy persona to Ossorio's Templar template and likewise played the lead in the director's THE LORELEY'S GRASP (1975).

Director Ossorio wrote a fairly concise character arc for Kendall and Roy as Jack and Vivian respectively. We learn they were former lovers but he couldn't measure up to her bourgeois tastes. Set to marry the less handsome Mayor Duncan, Vivian lets Jack know she'd much prefer his company even if he won't have the financial stability to offer her. This allows for Kendall to indulge in some Tough Guy theatrics, fighting for his woman, who is also lusted after by Duncan's chief henchman, Dacosta, played by perennial Euro cinema villain, Frank Brana.

Aside from a few scenes of exposition that end up benefiting Kendall more than his co-star, Esperanza Roy has little to do that allows her to stand out. A fine actress, her presence is certainly welcome, but for a better presentation of her talents, seek out A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL (1973). Ostensibly an ensemble piece, Roy's Vivian in BLIND DEAD #2 is mostly window dressing to be fought over. She's never the 'final girl' type that Lone Fleming pioneered in the previous picture; which brings us to.....

The heroine of TOMBS, Lone Fleming returns but in a different role, and a noticeably smaller one. She's in most of the movie, but predominantly in the background. She doesn't get much dialog, but exits the picture in one of the more memorable moments. After the mayor has used her daughter as a decoy to make an escape, Amalia (Fleming) frantically tries to save her, but Jack (Kendall) won't let her, volunteering to go get the little girl. He gets cornered, so Amalia grabs a torch and rushes right into the middle of the blood-drinking monsters so Jack and her daughter can get away. Holding them off, she is then surrounded and cut down.

When the picture was released in America, much of the gore was removed including one crucially important, and particularly grim sequence; wrecking havoc with the narrative in such a way, its removal turns a murderous character into a pitiable one. That individual being Murdo, the village cripple, and played by Jose Canalejas. Hellbent on bringing the Templars back to life as they foretold in the opening sequence, Murdo has kidnapped a pretty, young woman from the village. Vigorously cutting into her chest, the blood spills into the ground near the graves of the dead knights. Naturally they rise and make their way to the village astride their unholy horses. The entirety of Murdo sacrificing the girl is missing from the glaringly inferior English dubbed version.

In the Spanish original, there's some nudity, but it appears Ossorio shot a great deal more bared breasts and full-frontal nudity. A number of B/W stills on the Blue Underground DVD reveal a lot of skin that was possibly used for another market (see above). These include nude shots of Esperanza Roy, Loreta Tovar and the girl killed by Murdo--fully nude in some instances. Depending on one's tolerance for subtitles, the qualities between the Spanish and English dubbed versions are like night and day. The former is easily the superior of the two versions.

The beauty of this sequel is that it re-tells the lore in a new and exciting way. Lacking the creepy moments of its predecessor, ATTACK OF THE BLIND DEAD compensates with a voracious creativity that undermines its low budget. The best of the quartet to some, this reviewer still prefers the meticulously crafted original, but Amando de Ossorio's talent peaked with this exemplar second installment in the Templar's celluloid legacy.

This review is representative of the Blue Underground Coffin Box Set release. Extras and Specs: Anamorphic widescreen 1.66:1; US version as RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD; theatrical trailer; poster and stills gallery.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Lady Vampire (1959) review


Shigeru Amachi (Nobutaka Takenaka), Keinosuke Wada (Oki Tamio), Junko Ikeuchi (Itsuko Matsumura), Yoko Mihara (Miwako Matsumura), Torahiko Nakamura (Shigekatsu Matsumura), Kyoko Yashiro (Tomoko), Hiroshi Sugi (Wada), Ayukawa Hiroshi (Tanigawa), Tsutomu Wakui (Dwarf), Satsuki Fuji (Old Witch Woman)

Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa

"The moon is rising. It joins my doom with that of Kisaragi Castle. How hateful is the moon, how unkind...."

The Short Version: Based on Soto Tachibana's 1950 novel, Nakagawa's unique horror movie not only featured Japan's first Western-style bloodsucker, but goes out of its way to ignore western-style vampire lore. Shigeru Amachi is impeccably dressed and suitably worthy of the Dracula title, but this version of the classical vamp turns by the bright of the moon, casts reflections in mirrors, and uses golden crosses as a means of punishment for the enslaved women that betray him! The last twenty macabre minutes pits our young hero against the vampire in his underground Kisaragi castle of freaks complete with a dwarf, a bald henchman, and an old witch.

On his way to his fiance Itsuko's birthday party, Tamio's taxi runs over a strange woman crossing the street. Upon inspection, the woman has suddenly disappeared. Shortly after Tamio arrives at the Matsumura household, it is discovered someone has entered a locked room upstairs that hasn't been occupied in years. Itsuko's father, Shigekatsu, finds a young woman in there; and to his shock, it's his wife, Miwako, who has been missing for twenty years and now looking the same as when she disappeared. The next day, Tamio and Itsuko go to an art exhibit and find a curious painting of a nude model who bears an amazing resemblance to her mother, Miwako. A few days later the painting is stolen and ends up shipped to Shigekatsu's home by an unknown sender. Miwako, having been in some sort of catatonic state, finally awakens and details her macabre ordeal. Revealing she was indeed the model for the art piece, Miwako fears that the undead man who painted her likeness is coming for her.

A vastly underrated vampire movie from Japan's master of the macabre, Nobuo Nakagawa, his unusual addition to the undead canon is akin to Mexican vampire cinema in the way those films revised the lore. Aside from a few items of familiarity, and a lead blood-drinker who dresses like Lugosi with the mannerisms of Lee, the mythology is brazenly turned on its head. This vamp can walk around in daylight (while wearing sunglasses), casts a reflection in mirrors, and, while a vampire 24 hours a day, only turns into a fanged fiend when directly hit by moonlight. This immortal neck-biter also uses gold crosses to turn his rebellious female subjects into waxen statues so they can never leave him. The explanation for some of this arcane alterations are vague, but correlate to an information-heavy flashback-within-a-flashback discussed further down.

Nakagawa's direction is meticulous; frequently bathing the screen in shadow, capturing various architecture with tracking shots that carefully creep in and out of the interiors while seizing the vast expanse of the film's exteriors. At times bordering on avant garde, Nakagawa brings shades of oldeworld atmosphere to the modern day when he isn't dunking the film in a barrel of exploitation--primarily reserved for the outlandish final 20 minutes. A fascinating anomaly, THE LADY VAMPIRE is something of a bridge between the old-fashioned spookshow, THE GHOST OF KASANE SWAMP (1957) and the insane imagery of JIGOKU (1960). Shintoho would be absorbed into Toho in 1961, so it's possible the filmmakers wished to get a little crazy to entice ticket buyers. Having never read the novel, it's not currently feasible to do a comparison between the book and film. 

If everything weren't already quirky enough what with the major adjustments made to traditional vampire iconography, the film's title is misleading. The 'Lady Vampire' of the title is most definitely drained of her plasma, but she never pursues fresh victims of her own. The people bitten by Shiro either die or become slaves to the master. A similar approach was taken in Hammer's Karnstein trilogy from the early 70s where some of the popular folklore was altered, but not to the drastic level of Nakagawa's eerie, kooky horror opus. Apparently, the original title was 'The Naked Lady Vampire'; a more exploitable moniker, but no less deceptive. The lady of the title refers to the character of Miwako (essayed by the lovely Yoko Mihara). The nakedness that was dropped from the title signifies the (partially) nude body of Miwako that is captured by the immortal Shiro on his unholy canvas.

This fairly complex backstory unveils itself as a flashback within a flashback, heading back to the Tokugawa Era, and, despite some stock footage, giving the low budget an epic feel. The centerpiece of undying love will be familiar to those of customary vampire cinema. Loved for centuries by the vampire, Miwako is the reincarnation of a 17th century princess, the daughter of Amakusa Shiro, a real figure of Japanese history. Adapted from Soto Tachibana's 1950 novel (the author would die in 1959, the year this film was made), the screenplay by Shin Nakazawa and Nakatsu Katsuyoshi ties the undead with historical accounts much in the way Vlad Tepes (Vlad, the Impaler) has been associated with count-less (pun intended) films for decades.

Using the 17th century Shimabara Uprising as the springboard of the plot, the vampire Shiro Sofue, as we're told, fought with the forces of the youthful leader of that rebellion, the aforementioned Amakusa Shiro. Battling against the persecution of Japanese Christians, Amakusa led nearly 40,000 rebels against the armies of the Tokugawa Shogunate for a roughly four month period between December of 1637 and April of 1638 before finally being defeated. After the rebellion was quelled, Amakusa was decapitated, and the government banned Christianity in Japan at that time.

In conjunction with the film, Shiro, at the request of Princess Katsu, kills her as it becomes obvious Amakusa's forces are going to lose. Her death occurs during the rising of the moon, a full moon. Shiro, who manages to survive the ordeal (according to the story, only one man did survive Amakusa's final assault, and that man was said to be a traitor), drinks her blood, out of love, as he puts it, and become cursed as a vampire--to live forever and change into a monster when bathed in the bright light of the full moon. 

Naturally, the full moon turning a human being into a monster is generally associated with the lycanthropic school of folkloric legends. It's unusual to see it here, but within the context of the story, it fits just fine. Again, if you're familiar with Mexican horror pictures--particularly the vampire entries--there's plenty of mythology-tinkering going on there; so for there to be so many radical alterations in Nakagawa's movie, this approach is refreshingly unique. Also recognizable to werewolf lore, when Shiro changes, he struggles, and grasps his head in pain. The transformations of Larry Talbot and other Wolfmen appear to be anything but pleasant. 

Shigeru Amachi strikes an imposing figure as Shiro Sofue; or, as his alias, Nobutaka Takenaka. Hammer's DRACULA (1958), or HORROR OF DRACULA in the US, had just come out the year before, and the actor channels Christopher Lee at times, but the B/W photography ensures the ghost of Lugosi lurks somewhere in the shadows of the cinematographer's palette. Whether intentional or not, Amachi brandishing a sword to battle the lead hero at the end recalls a similar duel of swords between vampire German Robles and hero Abel Salazar in the seminal Mexican horror classic, THE VAMPIRE (1957).

Amachi was a fine actor with an intense face that served him well throughout his career. He worked with many of Japan's major directors in his heyday, as well as roles in popular film series' like Zatoichi, the Nemuri Kyoshiro (SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH) series and the crime films of the "Dog" series with Jiro Tamiya. Amachi founded his own production company in 1966, and co-produced with Spanish horror film icon Paul Naschy the film, THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD (1983). It would be one of his last theatrical features. Shigeru Amachi would die in early March of 1985 of a subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding inside the skull). He was 54 years old.

Lastly, but certainly not least, there's the over the top last twenty minutes inside Shiro's lair, the ruins of Kisaragi Castle that are now underground! It's an extraordinary setting. Up to now the film has only dabbled in exploitational extravagance; near the end, it unleashes a whirlwind of wackiness where the world's of Yoshimi Hirano's photography and Haruyasu Kurosawa's art decor clash in a miasma of overwrought, exaggerated action. Nakagawa's curtain closer crams an old witch, Shiro's oafish, dwarf assistant (whom we see throughout), a bald strongman, an acid pit, and a sword-wielding vampire within a 20 minute time frame. 

Nakagawa's curious vampire movie (he made an earlier vamp-detective flick in 1956 entitled THE VAMPIRE MOTH) was the first of the Western-style variety to be seen in Japan. Some critics view it as a step backward for the director when compared with his more restrained efforts like GHOST OF KASANE SWAMP (1957) and the immortal classic, TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN (1959); the latter title considered the definitive of its many incarnations. Others point out the lack of experimentation on the part of the director. Personally, there's a great deal of experimentation in the treatment of the material and the abundance of eccentricities found in the script. 

It would be over a decade before another attempt at an Anglo interpretation of the vampire would grace Japanese celluloid; those being a fascinating trilogy of Toho films often referred to as 'The Bloodthirsty Trilogy' comprising THE VAMPIRE DOLL (1970), LAKE OF DRACULA (1971) and EVIL OF DRACULA (1974).

Based on its own merits, THE LADY VAMPIRE is bizarre enough for appreciation among the curio crowd looking for something on the fringes of insanity. Those expecting something more reserved will find it in intermittent doses, but might be put off by the outrageousness of some other elements. The low budget shows at times, but overall THE LADY VAMPIRE is worthy of reappraisal; and, depending on one's point of view, a fascinatingly bizarre success or failure on the resume of Japan's famous master of horror.

Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.