Blu-Ray Review: The Bloodthirsty Trilogy From Arrow Films

by Rachel Bellwoar

From the studio that brought you Godzilla, comes a Japanese vampire trilogy you may not know exists but, thanks to Arrow, can be yours today in one complete set.

Every description of The Bloodthirsty Trilogy inevitably brings up that they were a response to the success of Hammer Studios’ vampire movies, specifically their Gothic elements (big mansions, thunder storms, the works). If you don’t already pick that up through watching, it’s an important piece of context to know, but it seems to be both a point of fascination and critique. It’s true that latching onto a studio’s visual style goes beyond taking up a genre (and Toho isn’t the first studio to hop onto the vampire trend) but Michio Yamamoto directed, and if his trilogy adopts certain European traits, that was the idea. All vampire movies tend to share certain aspects, but that doesn’t make them less attractive, or entertaining, to watch. That goes triple for The Bloodthirsty Trilogy.

Vampire movies are tough to get wrong anyway. Once you start adding vampire lovers, it can get hokey (emphasis on can) but they’re pretty amenable to variation, which is a good thing because the bonus features on this set aren’t quite up to par with Arrow’s usual output. There aren’t any commentaries. Critic Kim Newman appears for a filmed segment (his vampire bona fides include writing the Anno Dracula series), but it’s Jasper Sharp’s booklet essay that makes the case for reappraising this trilogy. With films like The Bloodthirsty Trilogy, especially, you want that enthusiasm because it’s how you rise above the band wagon that would accept these movies as weak attempts at copying Hammer, without questioning the conclusiveness of that verdict. By providing literal translations of some of the titles and words, Sharp considers what gets lost in translation and also what gets exaggerated. Dracula is never named in the movies, yet some subtitlers (including the ones for this release) go against that. His discussion also offers food for thought on whether the first film, The Vampire Doll (1970), is a vampire movie, by showing a precedent for films where “bloodsucking” was part of the title without showing up in the plot.

None of the movies require you to have to seen the others (according to Sharp, they weren’t made with a trilogy in mind) but there are overlapping cast members (Shin Kishida plays the Christopher Lee role in Lake and Evil ; Kaku Takashini is a supporting character in Doll and Lake) and certain visuals (spooked birds) repeat and tie the films together. Strangulation, paired with the threat of falling, takes place in all three films, while Lake of Dracula (1971) has the most scares. Evil of Dracula (1974) uses its all-girls school to be the most salacious.

It’s the fact that each movie is quite different that ensures you never feel like this trilogy’s treading water (also helpful: each film comes in at around 90 minutes long). Vampire Doll sees Keiko (Kayo Matsuo) and her boyfriend (Akira Nakao) go in search of her brother (Atsuo Nakamura), when she has a nightmare that he was attacked. Lake of Dracula dives into Akiko’s (Midori Fujita) repressed memories of meeting a vampire when she was five, while being gaslit by her boyfriend (Chôei Takahashi) and sister (Sanae Emi) in the present, and Evil of Dracula deals with missing students and a new teacher (Toshio Kurosawa) who believes he saw one of them. The gender dynamics are fascinating (besides Akiko, you have Keiko’s boyfriend trying to pretend she’s the one who’s scared, not him) and the colors are vivid, as each film serves up its own flavor of undead menace.

Available now from Arrow Films, sharpen your stakes and lock your doors for an evening in with The Bloodthirsty Trilogy.