The May 14th, 2018 release of The Bloodthirsty Trilogy by U.K. based indie distributor Arrow Films is a sublime weaving together of classic gothic horror and Japanese genre cinema all rolled into one. The films come out of Japan's Toho Studios, whose response to the runaway success of the British and American gothic horror films of the sixties resulted in this delightful trio of films - The Vampire Doll, Lake of Dracula, and Evil of Dracula.
The Vampire Doll centers around a young man who goes missing after visiting his girlfriend's isolated country home. His sister and her boyfriend trace him to a creepy mansion, but their search becomes a perilous one when they uncover a gruesome family history.
Lake of Dracula begins with a young girl suffering a terrifying nightmare about a vampire with blazing golden eyes. 18 years later, the dream is revealed to be a hellish prophecy when a strange package containing an empty coffin mysteriously turn up at a nearby lake.
In the final film, Evil of Dracula, a professor takes up a new post at an all-girls school only to discover the school's principal bears a dark secret and the students are in grave danger.
All three films are directed by Michio Yamamoto and emphasize atmosphere and style over substance, an approach not uncommon to the horror genre and, at least in this case, an approach that pays off richly with classic images of dark thunderous nights, ghostly mansions and bloody fangs to be seen in abundance. Yamamoto, who passed away in 2004, worked alongside the legendary Akira Kurosawa as an assistant director on Throne of Blood and collaborated multiple times with Kihachi Okamoto.
While Yamamoto emphasizes style and atmosphere, this is not to say that the dialogue is irrelevant. The Vampire Doll, is a rarity among horror in that it's also rather sublimely written. From the film's opening shot, it's clear that Yakamoto models himself after the masters, especially Hitchcock, and The Vampire Doll is compelling to watch from beginning to end. Yamamoto directs with a detached sophistication, the film's familiar staging often giving away to greater tension and thrills than you may be expecting.
Lake of Dracula is the weakest film of the trilogy, an atmospheric film that covers no new ground in its approximately 80 minute running time without the extras included here. The film has a few chills and thrills, but for the most part the film follows the formula so completely that you can't help but know what's going on and where it's going to end. It's an intriguing film given Japan's historical leaning toward more supernatural horror, but this classic gothicism definitely is a sign that Yamamoto wasn't just interested in being a copycat director.
In Evil of Dracula, Toshio Kurosawa is Professor Shiraki, who believes himself to be entering a rather normal situation as upcoming principal at a boarding school before his arrival reveals the eerie secrets of the principal he's replacing. Evil of Dracula practically bathes itself in the blood of the Hammer films, a fact that is initially a little jarring considering we're sitting there watching what amounts to as a Japanese horror film. While the Japanese film industry has certainly mastered horror, regularly serving up some of the year's best indie and studio horror, Evil of Dracula is sort of an early experience of that transition and you can see Yamamoto feeling his way around the genre. At its best, Evil of Dracula is a compelling and rather horrifying gothic horror...at its weakest, it's a formulaic, occasionally unfinished horror that plays out as sort of an entry level horror.
For more information on The Bloodthirsty Trilogy, visit the Arrow Films website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic