The Vampire Doll (1970)

Let’s take a minute to go in a totally different direction, to Japan, so we can focus on a “vampire” movie that doesn’t really feature vampires at all. Yet it’s still so well done that it wouldn’t have been out of place in the midst of Hammer’s gothic horror work of the 1960s. Even if it isn’t what I was expecting it to be, I really liked this movie.

Kazuhiko Sagawa heads out into the rural countryside in a storm to see his girlfriend, Yuko Nonomura, having been gone for six months abroad. Unfortunately, when he arrives at her family’s estate, her mother informs him that Yuko died in a car accident only two weeks before. He refuses to believe it and suspects he sees her in her old room, but her mother refutes this and tells him to get some sleep. Later, he spies Yuko and follows her to her grave, where she begs him to kill her. Then everything goes to shit. A week later, Keiko, Kazuhiko’s sister, decides to investigate her brother’s disappearance and brings her fiance, Hiroshi, along. Keiko and Hiroshi travel to the estate, but Yuko’s mother claims Kazuhiko left. Not buying into it after Keiko sees Yuko in her room, Keiko and Hiroshi check Yuko’s death certificate and meet with her doctor, Dr. Yamaguchi. Dr. Yamaguchi rambles about ghosts. Keiko confronts Yuko’s mom, while Hiroshi fights off the family groundskeeper. Eventually it’s revealed that Dr. Yamaguchi is Yuko’s father, having massacred her family except her mother out of jealousy from her leaving him during World War II. When Yuko was dying, he hypnotized her to stay alive, but now she feels a need for blood and slashing throats open with straight razors. When Dr. Yamaguchi threatens Keiko and Hiroshi, Yuko appears and murders him, which in turn causes her hypnotism to leave. She dies on the spot. Nobody is happy.

Great movie.

Despite the fact that it’s not a traditional vampire, this is the first in a loose trilogy of films connected around vampire-related plots by Toho in the early 1970s and directed by Michio Yamamoto. The other two films are Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula, and they go heavier on the vampirism. Here it’s more of a metaphor for Yuko’s condition, though she goes from normal to blood-splattered psycho killer with creepy eyes at the drop of a hat, and it is fantastic when she does. We get to see her maiming crows, attacking a couple of folks, and what she does to her boyfriend looks like the aftermath of an acid attack. She also cries a lot, which is spooky.

She’s not the only creepy killer running around though. The mansion she grew up in has a groundskeeper who is deaf, mute, and doesn’t like your face. He’s named Genzo, and he randomly attacks people with a hatchet just for committing the crime of walking around outside at night. He does this repeatedly, and while he’s never able to finish the job, he definitely appears more than willing to do so. Add in the maniacal doctor, and yeah, this family is pretty much fucked.

You know what’s even better? The setting and shadows. It turns out Yuko’s family were diplomats, so they built a nice Western-style house, which is now decrepit and aging like out of an early giallo or gothic horror. The lighting adds to this because shadows are everywhere, casting a gloom that seems unbroken even in broad daylight. That house is a freaking tomb, and it’s made worse by Yuko’s constant crying.

If ever you go into a house where you hear a woman crying, and someone tells you it’s just the wind, that’s a good sign that you should get your gear and go. Like ASAP. That place is murder city.

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