Saturday, 24 June 2017

Evil of Dracula (1974)


Director: Michio Yamamoto
Screenplay: Ei Ogawa
Cast: Toshio Kurosawa (as Professor Shiraki); Mariko Mochizuki (as Kumi Saijô); Kunie Tanaka (as Dr. Shimomura); Shin Kishida (as the Principal); Katsuhiko Sasaki (as Professor Yoshi)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #110

How are there Japanese vampires? In the case of Evil of Dracula, as was the case with Nobuo Nakagawa's The Lady Vampire (1959), a screenwriter for a film meant to thrill and tease its youthful audience (as many horror films, like in West, were probably for) had to delve into actual history. In this case the condemnation of foreign Christianity, where it was banned and those who practice it had to live in hiding, explains how a Western folk creature like a vampire can be created on Japanese soil, turning the chaos of those incidents (documented in fictional form in Silence (1971) by Masahiro Shinoda and retold in Silence (2016) by Martin Scorsese) into back story. Ironically, because they are part of European folklore to the point they've been homogenised into popular culture, a lot of British, European and American films never need to explain the folklore of vampirism, not even explain where the vampire comes from even if there's no wish to go into their origins, sometimes to the fault that it can feel like these figures could easily be replaced with another bloodsucking creature and nothing would change, merely figures that are placed into the narrative without a least a paragraph or a sentence in the script to introduce them. In the hands of a country where they are utterly foreign, Evil of Dracula may not do anything traditionally different with them, still the cape wearing dark eyed stranger and the sensual mysterious woman, but is able to flesh them out with having to use cultural background you don't normally get with the Hammer films etc.


Barring this, in the midst of seventies plaid trousers and floppy hair, the third of the Toho trilogy of vampire films is b-movie chique that even on a dreadful early 2000s DVD has elegance in spite of the story being seen so many times before. A new teacher is brought to an isolated local community and, like the best of most horror stories, cut off by train within a strange new environment where car accidents are abandoned on desolate roads, murky forests exist from dark fantasy, and he's assigned to an all girls school trapped outside of reality. One, as the girls openly flirt with his during one of his psychology lessons with giant Rorschach tests on the projector, that's all gothic shadows and European decor. Were it not for the back-story set in period Japan, this would be set within a mukokuseki environment. At times, with many women surrounding our protagonist and having screen time themselves, it also feels like it's the prologue of Hausu (1977) before everything went insane.

The vampires feel antiquated even next to the period flashbacks, figures out of time and tone from the reality shown. Even if this is a mukokuseki film in most of its presentation, vampires clearly don't gel as well as yakuza in western suits and jazz by themselves. It's the details around them which makes the result work as has been the case with (almost) every Japanese film/anime/series about vampires. A morbid elegance, some of which is openly borrowed from other countries - the negligees of the female students, the Charles Baudelaire quotations from the Renfield stand-in, a French literature teacher with a pale skin, and gothic tropes of coffins and dark cellars. The rest is the tone between the erotic and grotesque that's arguable from Japanese art. Its tame next to other Japanese films that were made in the sixties and at same time as Evil of Dracula, but there's still the brief glimpses of bared breast with blood staining them, of a white rose turning bloody crimson, that has far more perverse sensuality to them than the more brazen and (frankly) embarrassing attempts I've seen from Hammer from the same period. Then there's the suddenness of two scenes which make what's a pretty standard J-horror film stand out in memory. One, a naked female corpse on a table, the face severed off, the body gasping one last time in agony, as a crow is silhouette in shadow nearby and the face becomes a new appearance for another figure. The other the final shot, practical effects both gruesomely oozing and melting but almost beautiful in fast forward decay, capping off Evil of Dracula on a high note. What would be a generic, average film shows moments of real visceral power that help it for the better.


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