LAKE OF DRACULA (1971) Reviews and overview

 

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Lake of Dracula is a 1971 Japanese supernatural horror film made by the Toho company following Hammer’s Gothic tradition.

The film is considered the second in a trilogy of films directed by Michio Yamamoto and referred to as “The Bloodthirsty Trilogy”, the other films being The Vampire Doll (Yûrei yashiki no kyôfu: Chi wo sû ningyô, 1970) and Evil of Dracula (Chi o suu bara, 1974).

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On 14 May 2018, Lake of Dracula was issued in the UK by Arrow Video as part of a ‘Bloodthirsty Trilogy’ Blu-ray set. Extras include:

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation transferred from original film elements
Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio
Newly translated English subtitles
Kim Newman on The Bloodthirsty Trilogy, a new video appraisal by the critic and writer
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin
Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp

Plot:

In a remote coastal setting young Akiko (Midori Fujita) chases after her misbehaving hound, Leo, following him through a wooded area until they both arrive at a rather unlikely European-style mansion. Obliged to snoop around inside, they are faced with a figure appearing out of the gloom, fangs bared and none too welcoming.

Skipping forward many years, Akiko is still with Leo and is venturing out to find a handyman, Kyûsaku, to fix her door. As she arrives, the handyman receives an unexpected delivery which he later discovers is a crate containing a white coffin.

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Akiko’s simple life, living with her sister Natsuko (Sanae Emi) by Lake Fujimi, allows time for her pastime of painting, her latest work being a large yellow eye featured in a sunset, which she explains was inspired by nightmares she’s been having since a child. The pair, joined by her sister’s boyfriend, wait patiently for Kyûsaku, who never shows – little do they know that having opened the coffin, only to find it empty, the man has been attacked by an unknown person lurking in the shadows.

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Events become ever more peculiar, with a dead body arriving at the hospital drained of blood but with two puncture holes in the neck, all of which the local doctor, Saeki (Chôei Takahashi) finds most perplexing. Meanwhile, Akiko has sadly found her beloved dog dead in the woods with the dinner-avoiding handyman close-by and acting oddly.

Now referring to his ‘new master’, Kyûsaku’s return coincides with further abductions, all of which lead back to the mansion’s owner, a nameless vampire (Shin Kishida; the familiar star of the Lone Wolf and Cub films, Hanzo the Razor: The Snare and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla). Dr Saeki and Akiko are dragged into the vampire’s web of terror, not least when Natsuko begins to act strangely. Visions from Akiko’s childhood could be key to saving them from eternity as the undead…

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Largely unloved, both at the time and now, Lake of Dracula is an interesting attempt to combine the particularly Japanese style of slow-moving action and gently painted characters with the elements which had contributed to Hammer’s meteoric rise as the bastion of the horror film.

Firstly, it’s best to leave your thoughts on Dracula at the door, there’s really no connection here, the reference apparently being a marketing ploy by American distributors (perhaps the same who thought a re-titling of ‘Japula’ might draw in the crowds – fortunately, even they abandoned this quite quickly); neither is it wise to compare this to the other films of the trilogy, there is no storyline to follow between them.

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The main issue is an odd desire for the filmmakers to leave the vampire as such a minor character – apart from a pleasing finale and some hiding in corners, he is left with little to do, leaving, sadly, the less arresting actors to do the majority of the heavy lifting. Fujita is a timid, shallow female lead, difficult to empathise with, even when her dog is killed – in fairness, she has proved herself to be all but useless in terms of preventing him from constantly running away.

Likewise, the doctor, certainly no Van Helsing and barely as interesting as Van Morrison, we are presented with a scenario which blights many a horror film – heroes we’d much rather die than succeed.

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Fortunately, the cinematography is excellent, the mansion situated in such an unlikely place being that it’s oddly fascinating to see Japanese actors placed within it. Less well exploited is the titular lake, an opportunity for invention well and truly missed.

The problem, aside from the issues already mentioned, is largely that Japan has little in the way of vampiric folklore to draw upon, unusual for a nation so large. As such, the sexual element is missing and the vampire’s motive is somewhat muddled – the film’s conclusion supposes the audience has come straight from a Hammer film, otherwise it could only appear as distinctly odd.

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Riichirô Manabe’s score is superb, a real shame it is coupled with such a lacklustre film; Western flourishes and Eastern exoticism, fruity glissandi doing their best to convince the audience something exciting is going to happen. He would later score the likes of Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster and Godzilla vs. Megalon.

Colourful and often dreamy, Lake of Dracula is a waste of a good setting and an appealing monster, though as a curiosity it’s definitely worth a watch. If nothing else, the film did have some influence – the impressive No Wave band, Lake of Dracula, taking their name from the movie.

Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA

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Other reviews:

“While well-made and offering up some stylish flourishes, nice shooting locations, photography and atmosphere, a few good jump scares, a fine performance by Kishida as the vampire and decent make-up, it’s dragged down to forgettable status by a weak script.” The Bloody Pit of Horror

” …superficial, unsubtle, humorless yet stylishly horrific, appealingly gruesome and exciting. Rokuro Nishigaki’s camera provides lots of atmosphere-loving, as it does, shimmering lakescapes, Martian-like skies and all things tangled branches can hide.” Los Angeles Times

“…acceptable, if unexceptional film […] the story is generally routine, but the Eastern locale and attempt (slight as it is) to add a little dimension to its main characters make this somewhat above average for the genre.” Stuart Galbraith IV, Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films

Original title:

Noroi no yakata: Chi o suu me “Bloodthirsty Eyes”

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Trailer [1080p HD]:

New and future releases