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October 31, 2012

Evil of Dracula

Evil of Dracula 1.jpg

Chi o suu bara
Michio Yamamoto - 1974
Shadow Warrior All Region DVD

Dracula's not in this film. Then again, he's not named in the Japanese title which translates as "Bloodthirsty Roses". And there are a few gaps that the more discerning viewer will puzzle over. One the other hand, the third of Michio Yamamoto's vampire trilogy can be enjoyed for being more ambitious, even if those ambitions are largely half-baked.

Like the previous two films that seemed inspired by ten year old Hammer productions, this film seems to get some of its inspiration from Roger Corman's Poe series. The film takes place at a girls' boarding school, somewhere in a remote part of northern Japan. The principal lives in a large, Gothic style mansion. Inside are lots of paintings of men and women previously connected with the school. They resemble the kinds of paintings that are often seen in Corman's films of the main character's mad relatives, one of the recurring elements in those films. Also, one of the teachers in Yamamoto's film goes about quoting the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, adding a bit of literary weight.

evil of dracula 2.jpg

Yamamoto also addresses the competition from the other studios. While rival studio Nikkatsu was devoted to Roman Porno, and Toei remained commercially viable with their Pinky Violence films, Toho shied away from the more exploitive side of cinema. In Evil of Dracula there are a couple of big, bold close ups of single breasts, one with the puncture marks of a vampire's fangs, as well as a partially masked display of female nudity. Pretty racy stuff by Toho standards.

When the psychology teacher, Shiraki, first arrives at school, he finds that the principal's wife was just killed in an auto accident. The wife also happens to be in a coffin in the basement of the principal's house. Of course Shiraki goes to the basement to check things out for himself. What is interesting is that the wife is to be in the coffin for seven days before burial, a custom more common in China and Thailand, than in Japan. It's one of the couple of times that non-Japanese culture is used in the story. The other reference to foreign culture is the explanation of how vampires first came to exist in the part of Japan where the film takes place. The school's doctor relays a story about a caucasian survivor of a shipwreck, two hundred years previously, who was tortured for being Christian. Somehow, his denouncing Christianity did nothing to endear himself to the local populace. Wandering in the desert, this person with no name drank some of his own blood to quench is thirst, later coming across a young girl whom he also turned into a vampire. Again, as in Yamamoto's previous vampire film, one might interpret the presence of vampires as symbolic of the ills of contemporary Japan caused by outsiders.

Even if one doesn't care to consider whether there's any symbolic meaning to the story, there are a few visual pleasures to enjoy for their own sake. The trio of school girls that fight each other for the attention of Shiraki, also have the habit of pricking themselves with thorns from a white rose thoughtfully provided by the vampire principal. At one point, we see the white rose turn red. Also in Shiraki's class, during a slide show of the Rorschach test, one of the ink blots appears to be covered in blood. There is also the student body to consider, several young women with resumes of maybe three films, cute young hopefuls on the Toho lot. They may have fangs, or wield sharp instruments designed for a truly bloody death, but they are also pretty darn cute. There is also some poignancy in seeing Mr. and Mrs. Vampire, in simultaneous death throes, reaching out to each other one last time before disintegrating into a pair of steaming skeletons.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 31, 2012 07:47 AM