Saturday, November 6, 2021

Noroi no yakata: Chi o suu me (1971)

... aka: 呪いの館 血を吸う眼
... aka: Bloodthirsty Eyes
... aka: Cursed Mansion: Bloodthirsty Eyes
... aka: Il sangue di Dracula (The Blood of Dracula)
... aka: Lake of Death
... aka: Lake of Dracula

Directed by:
Michio Yamamoto

As a little girl, art teacher Akiko Kashiwagi (Midori Fujita) had a horrifying encounter with a vampire at a remote, ocean-front home hidden in thickets of trees and brush. Or did she? Her memories of the encounter are so fragmented she chalks it all up to a childhood nightmare. Now as an adult, Akiko is living in a similar water-front area near Lake Fujimi, along with her deceptively perky younger sister Natsuko (Sanae Emi), and is still haunted by whatever it is that happened to her as a child, which has also informed some of her artwork. A menacing golden eye has been especially ingrained in her memory. Minor events (her dog running off, a girl playing piano...) set off certain memories, which start tying everything together little by little. Her doctor boyfriend, Takashi (Chôei Takahashi), believes she suffers from "illusions of hypothetical enemies" based on some other childhood trauma she's compartmentalized somewhere in her subconscious. Her psychological issues also may be leading to a bit of paranoia: She suspects her sister has fallen in love with her boyfriend and is possibly trying to steal him away from her.

At dusk, a sinister truck driver (Tadao Futami) drops a crate off at the home of caretaker / handyman Kyûsaku (Kaku Takashina). The crate isn't addressed to anyone in particular and Kyûsaku learns that the supposed shipping company who's brought it there is entirely fictional. He opens the crate, find a coffin and then is attacked by the pale-faced vampire (Shin Kishida) who emerges.

Akiko returns home after a day of shopping to find her dog Leo missing. Scouring the woods, she stumbles upon her dead pooch and is then assaulted and knocked out by a zombie-like Kyûsaku. He drags her back to his shack, lies her out on a table and presents her to the vampire, but she's saved by sheer chance when a couple of fishermen stop by looking to rent a boat. Returning home from her horrific ordeal, Akiko calls her boyfriend but the call is intercepted by her sister, who tells him everything's OK and then hangs up. Later that night, Akiko sees a female figure that she suspects is Natsuko wandering around in the woods. When she confronts Natsuko about this the next morning, she denies she was ever in the woods. The perplexing events cause Akiko to start doubting her own sanity.

Meanwhile, at a hospital, the catatonic body of a runaway farmer's daughter (Mika Katsuragi) is brought in. The girl was last seen healthy and hitchhiking near the lake and she's now pale, very low on blood and has two small puncture wounds on her neck. Hmm! Before the staff can get to the bottom of things, the girl tries to run off and is accidentally knocked over a balcony by a security guard. After bearing witness to this and knowing whatever happened to this girl happened near the lake, Takashi finds himself starting to believe his girlfriend's wild tales. Or, at the very least, that something sinister is going on in the area. He finally becomes a true believer after he's attacked in his car by one of the vamp's minions.

Natsuko is eventually found weak and nearly dead on the beach. As Akiko and Takashi rush to the hospital, she makes her sister promise that after she dies to cremate her body as soon as possible. Dr. Takashi agrees to the plan... but only after an autopsy of her body. Instead of jumping on that, he puts Akiko through a hypnosis session to unlock more of her past, which gives Natsuko time to revive on the slab, bite a nurse and escape. Our heroes then venture to Akiko's hometown to try to find the home from her dreams.

Preceded by THE VAMPIRE DOLL (1970) and followed by EVIL OF DRACULA (1974), this is clearly the weakest entry in the director's "Bloodthirsty Trilogy." 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. Story elements dealing with childhood trauma, parental favoritism causing fractures between grown children and such are potentially interesting, but nothing is adequately fleshed out, and the "Is she or isn't she sane?" angle that dominates the first half flatlines because it's obvious the vampires are real from the beginning. The story contains no surprises and, as far as action and plot complications are concerned, you'll find precious little of either here to really propel the story forward.

Toho gave this an international release and it played in theaters in Europe, South America and North America. There's an English-dubbed version for this one, as well as for Evil of Dracula, but those are best avoided. Here in America, Lake was given a VHS release in 1994 by Paramount and was then later included in a Blu-ray box set distributed by Arrow, which also includes the director's two other vampire films.

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