(Japan, 1970, Yureiyashiki no Kyofu: Chi O Suu Ningyoo)
a.k.a. LEGACY OF DRACULA, BLOODSUCKING DOLL
Region 2 PAL DVD (from Artsmagic)
If you go down to the woods tonight...
Presumably inspired by the success of Hammer's many Dracula sequels, this is the best of the Japanese 'Dracula' trilogy, even though Dracula isn't in it. In fact, it's the best Japanese vampire film I've seen.
A young man visits an isolated mansion in the country to reunite with Yuko, the love of his life. But her mother tells him that she's recently died in a car crash. As he pays his respects at her grave near the house, he's attacked by a shrouded figure...
Next day, Keiko and her boyfriend come to the mansion, looking for her brother. They discover (gasp!) a bloodstained cuff-link in the family cemetary. They decide to investigate further...
With a strong cast, especially Yoko Minakaze as the mother, the film sustains a creepy atmosphere, helped by an effectively modern sound mix to put you on edge. The constant use of harpsichord music is a little annoying, and may remind you more of The Addams Family.
Though the story starts off with the familiar set-up of a missing relative, there's sufficient surprises and plot twists in store. It packs in gory scenes as well creepy ones. It also beats Hammer to the modern-dress vampire tale.
I think the film succeeds because it's grounded more in Japanese legend, with its shrouded vengeful spirit, rather than trying to adapt to the Dracula mythos of the west.
The many different titles sometimes make this film hard to locate (only use Vampire Doll on IMDB for instance), but it was released on DVD a few years ago as Legacy of Dracula in the UK, under the banner 'The Bloodthirsty Trilogy' along with Evil of Dracula (1974) and Lake of Dracula (1971), from the same director, Michio Yamamoto.
The handsomely composed 2.35 widescreen is well presented, but the DVD lets down the image by being a somewhat smeary transfer, as well as a standards conversion, but this was only occasionally distracting. I would like to see a better transfer of this in the future though.