... aka: A Maldição de Drácula (The Curse of Dracula)
... aka: Bloodsucking Rose
... aka: Bloodthirsty Roses, The
... aka: Evil of Dracula
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).