Saturday, March 14, 2020

Chi o suu bara (1974)

... aka: 血を吸う薔薇
... aka: A Maldição de Drácula (The Curse of Dracula)
... aka: Bloodsucking Rose
... aka: Bloodthirsty Roses, The
... aka: Evil of Dracula

Directed by:
Michio Yamamoto

Final entry of a three-part Japanese series of vampire spookers that also includes THE VAMPIRE DOLL (1970) and LAKE OF DRACULA (1971). These films, all from the same director and produced by Toho Company, are noteworthy for taking their cue from more atmospheric and measured Western vampire films than Asian ones. In other words, this plays out similarly to what Hammer was attempting to do at around the same time: updating their Gothic horrors of the 50s and 60s to the more exploitative 70s. Toho had previously made what some consider the very first Japanese vampire film (1956's Vampire Moth), even though the vampire in that film is nothing more than a ruse. However, Moth director Nobuo Nakagawa returned with THE LADY VAMPIRE (1959) just a few years later, which does feature a "real" bloodsucker, so he can probably still lay claim to having made the first Japanese film of this type.

Professor Shiraki (Toshio Kurosawa) arrives in a remote, mountainous area via train to take up a position as teacher at the all girl's Seimei School. Upon arrival, he's met by a driver and learns the school principal's wife died in a car accident just two days earlier; supposedly because she was hit by a drunk driver. And, as he'll soon learn, the principal (Shin Kishida) is keeping her corpse in his cellar for a week. Local custom, he says. Shiraki is in for another surprise when his new boss announces that he will be taking over his job as principal instead of teaching psychology as he was expecting. He doesn't feel qualified, yet the principal insists upon it as he's ill. He requests Shiraki stay in his home to start so he can become better acquainted with him. His first night there, he's woken up by the sound of a woman singing, goes to investigate, finds a pale-faced, bleeding woman dressed in blue and then is attacked by a female vampire dressed in white. Knocked unconscious, he awakens the next morning in his bed. After realizing the vampire woman resembles the principal's late wife (Mika Katsuragi), he figures it was all a nightmare due to new job jitters.

Shiraki is soon introduced to some of the faculty and (mostly boy-crazy) students. Of the latter, the film focuses almost entirely on a trio of roommates: the timid and sweet Kumi (Mariko Mochizuki) and the flirtatious and more outgoing Yukiko (Mio Ôta) and Kyôko (Keiko Aramaki). The girls try to steer clear of the principal's weird, Baudelaire-quoting ("As if a poignant dagger stabbed my mourning heart...") assistant Yoshii (Katsuhiko Sasaki), who always seems to be lurking in the background. Shiraki strikes up a friendship with school physician Dr. Shimomura (Kunie Tanaka), who also happens to be an occult / vampire buff and relays nearly all of the important plot information. The doctor mentions another girl - Keiko (Tomoe Mari) - that disappeared there recently and notes that students mysteriously "running away" never to be seen again is a regular occurrence there. However, Keiko turns out to be the same girl in blue Shiraki saw in his "dream." He also learns that the previous guy who was tapped to fill in as the new principal saw something so scary that he ended up in a mental institution. So much for that job promotion.

The doctor then takes our hero to an old cemetery where a 200-year-old grave may be the key to finally solving the mystery. According to local legend, a Caucasian male was shipwrecked, swam to shore and, due to being a Christian, was ostracized and tortured by the Japanese. That led to him denouncing his faith, fleeing into the desert and then, due to starvation and dehydration, surviving by drinking his own blood. From there, he moved on to drinking the blood of a 15-year-old girl. That has somehow turned him into a possibly immortal blood-drinking demon. When the girl miraculously returned to life, villagers killed both her and the white man and buried them in the mountain cemetery in a thick coffin. However, that coffin is empty... and perhaps has been for several centuries now.

Not surprisingly, the sinister and mysterious principal is indeed the same bloodsucker from 200 years earlier. He and his undead bride have been able to function at the remote girl's academy virtually undetected for quite some time; a task they have an interesting and EYES WITHOUT A FACE-influenced way of accomplishing! After Kyôko is bitten, she faints in the middle of a Rorschach test. During an examination, Shiraki notices two small pinhole-sized wounds on her chest. The timing couldn't be worse as most of the other schoolgirls head off on vacation, leaving Yumi and Yukiko, who've decided to stay behind the help care for their ailing friend, also in danger. Police do little to help after a possessed Kyôko throws herself down some stairs to her death, which leaves our survivors to take on these ancient vampires all on their own.

Though this is somewhat plodding, dull, overly familiar and predictable in spots, there are numerous things going on that elevate this a bit above the norm. The direction and photography are both pretty good, including fluid camerawork and lots of imaginative and striking shot framing. While the art direction has a tendency toward an earthy, drab aesthetic, this also manages to accentuate certain bold color choices whenever present, like roses that turn from white to red to correspond with new vampire infections. Whenever we go outside, the snow-covered mountainous backdrops are splendid to look at.  The simple, pallid vampire make-up is effective, the performances are good and they also throw in a number of jump scares (the camera amusingly and abruptly will just jerk over to the side to show the vampire!), a bit of nudity and a few gory moments, including a messy blood spray from a dagger-punctured neck.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the presentation of the vampires themselves and the new mythology. The origin story, shown via flashback, is quite interesting. While the vampires retain some elements from Western vampire films, like not showing up in mirrors (or in photographs), avoiding sunlight, sleeping in coffins and being able to be killed with a stake through the heart, this refreshingly avoids both prayer and religious iconography like holy water and crucifixes. We are ultimately even offered up a sympathetic treatment of the monsters themselves at the finale... which Tim Burton ripped off during the seance scene in his horror-comedy hit Beetlejuice!

After a brief U.S. theatrical release in its original language, this was English dubbed and cut by a few minutes so it could play in syndication on American TV. That same version was issued on home video by Paramount in the mid 90s, while the original uncut Japanese version wouldn't be available until decades later when this was included as part of Arrow Video's Blu-ray set "The Bloodthirsty Trilogy," which also includes his other two efforts. Prior to these, Yamamoto worked as an assistant director to Akira Kurosawa (on his Throne of Blood) and Kihachi Okamoto (on numerous films, including Samurai Assassin). He also made the seldom-seen Invisible Man movie Terror in the Streets (1970).

Mad Love (1989)

... aka: John Leslie's Mad Love

Directed by:
John Leslie

Wealthy, frail old Ben Davis (played by Christopher Lee look-a-like “Walter Electric”), who seems to have recently suffered from a stroke or other malady that makes him unresponsive and mute, and his much younger sexpot wife (Aja) are sitting down to dinner when the doorbells rings. Ralph (Damien Cashmere) and his friend Gary (Jon Dough) have broken down nearby and need to use their phone. After finding out a tow truck won't be able to make it for 45 minutes, the woman invites them to stay and have dinner. When they inquire about why the old man is just sitting there staring at them in silence, the wife points out “He's old. He just does that.” She adds, “But he doesn't do much about anything,” which the guys take as an invitation to bang her right there on the table as the old guy looks on.

Soon after, Realtor Joel Harper (Richard Pacheco) shows the San Francisco home to prospective new renter Jeffrey Reynolds (Jon Martin). Jeff needs a place to stay for six months and this 15-room mansion, which has such 80s amenities as cable TV, a VCR, a whole stockpile of video tapes, an elevator, a great view of the bay, terrible wallpaper and endless tacky décor, antiques, clutter and knickknacks that would make a season's worth of nuts from Hoarders green with envy, seems ideal for his needs. Jeff goes home to tell his wife Elizabeth ("Kendal Marx" / Lisa Bright) the good news. They'll be paid to live there and function as caretakers while the wheelchair-bound Mr. Davis is away. In that time, they can save back money and take their sweet time looking for a new place. Sounds almost too good to be true. Well, except for that little bit about the home supposedly being haunted.

Their first night in the house, Elizabeth is awaken by the sound of music. She goes into another room, where two ghosts (F.M. Bradley and Brandi Wine) are dancing and about to engage in some mildly kinky sex ("Tie me to a chair."). The next morning, Elizabeth thinks it was all a dream but her "brain feels like mashed potatoes." Before rushing off to his new job, Jeffrey writes the whole thing off as her having too much wine the night before but, as we will soon see, that's not the case at all. While she's reminiscing about the couple she'd seen the night before, she hears female voices and has another "scary" vision of ghosts Aja and Rene Morgan messing around with a strap on that has her frantically calling her husband at work. He's busy with a client so she passes out on the couch only to stirred out of her slumber long enough to watch an orgy with big-haired blonde Britt Morgan having sex with two guys wearing leather hoods as the focal point.

Jeffrey returns home to find Elizabeth passed out on the couch with an empty bottle of Valium at her side. He calls in a doctor (James Dalton), who concludes that she didn't overdose but has sustained "a severe shock to the system." He doesn't recommend hospitalization but instead lots of rest, which is easier said than done when Elizabeth keeps being woken up by horny ghosts! She eventually ends up giving in to temptation when she decides to let four poker-playing buddies have their way with her. This somehow all ties into a 1930s sex scandal involving a jealous husband murdering his adulterous wife... and history may end up repeating itself.

While not a game changer or anything, this is well-made by adult film standards, especially ones shot on video. Photography (by Jack Remy), lighting, editing, music and sound are all tended to in a competent way. There's even a plot and acceptable dialogue, which isn't anything deep or intricate, but it's enough to keep this fairly interesting until the twist ending. The best part is Lisa Bright in a rare starring role. She was only in porn for a few years and never managed to make a name for herself despite being one of the most naturally attractive actresses from this time. One of the problems was that she was almost always cast as second banana to a bigger "star" like Jamie Summers, Trinity Loren or her co-star here, Aja. Another problem was branding. While she appeared in around 40 adult titles she managed to use 20 different aliases during that time so no one could even keep track of who she was. Not surprisingly, the advertising materials for this one all use Aja as the poster model and give her top billing.

Leslie also produced, edited and co-wrote this with Pacheco (also the production manager). This won the 1990 Adult Video News Award for "Best Video of the Year" and was selected for their list of Top 500 adult titles of all time. VCA released this on VHS in 1989 and now carry it on DVD.

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