Saturday, August 21, 2021

Vampyres (1974)

... aka: Blood Hunger
... aka: Daughters of Darkness
... aka: Dracula's Vampire Daughters
... aka: Las hijas de Drácula (The Daughters of Dracula)
... aka: Midnight Slaughter
... aka: Ossessione carnale (Carnal Obsession)
... aka: Satan's Daughters
... aka: Vampire Orgy
... aka: Vampyres: Daughters of Darkness
... aka: Vampyres: Daughters of Dracula

Directed by:
"Joseph" (José Ramón) Larraz

Seeing how this has been elevated to minor cult classic status by some critics and viewers in recent years, this was a huge disappointment to me. Caught in a lesbian clinch, hot brunette Fran (Marianne Morris) and hot blonde Miriam (Anulka Dziubinska, the May 1973 Playboy Playmate of the Month) are gunned down in bed by, we're left to presume, one of the women's jealous male lovers, or perhaps a jilted spouse. Years later, the women (looking no worse for wear) "haunt" a remote and otherwise abandoned Victorian Gothic castle as "vampires," using their ample seductive charms to lure unsuspecting motorists into their clutches so they can ply them with drugged wine and then feast on their blood. They then stage the murders as car accidents to try to keep the authorities away which, in reality, would actually do even more to attract the attention of the authorities than if these people had merely vanished. And this is where the logical part of my brain started to crash the party and I couldn't help but focus on the many incredibly dumb plot points seen here.

For starters, how long have these ladies been doing this? Obviously the first time we see it isn't the first time they've done it as they have this particular routine down to an art. So how many corpses do the authorities have to clean up on the side of this barely-used, desolate country road before they come to the conclusion that something else may be going on? And, after the bodies are hauled off and taken to the morgue, we're to believe a coroner isn't going to be able to tell the difference between a car crash victim and someone who has been repeatedly stabbed to death and then drained of blood? Really now?

This also makes little sense when it comes to the type of creatures these ladies are. Naturally, the blood drinking means they're somewhere in the vampire family. However, neither has fangs, even though they're shown biting into necks numerous times, and they're shown to be ghosts at the finale. Since they're back from the dead as spirits, they're clearly not needing blood to sustain their lives, so why exactly do they need it? The "vampire" ladies are also clearly seen outside during the middle of the day throughout the first hour of the film, yet toward the end are shown rushing to their catacombs because one notes that daylight is fast approaching. Huh? So this is going to be another case where we'll have to basically forget all about the plot and try to find other things to enjoy.

Vacationing couple John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner) show up in the area with their camper and park it on the castle grounds. He wants to fish. She's going to work on her paintings. Harriet, clearly the more observant and perceptive of the two, immediately suspects something is off when she sees Miriam hiding behind a tree in the woods. That's followed by her hearing a scream coming from the castle and then seeing a bloody hand smashing against their camper window late one night. Every time she brings these things up to John, he brushes her off. It was a dream. It's not what you think. You're overreacting. Etc. Harriet eventually just gives up and in the process basically resigns herself to her eventual fate. Not that either of these characters have much to do with the main plot. They're around to occasionally point and say, "Well, that's kinda odd!" and then go about their day.

Meanwhile, the mysterious, middle-aged Ted (Murray Brown) shows up at a nearby hotel looking for a room. The manager swears he's seen him before, but Ted denies he's ever been there. While driving through the country, he picks up Fran on the side of the road and accompanies her back to her castle. There, the two have some wine and a little marathon sex session. When Ted wakes up the following morning, he's weak and his arm has a deep gash on it. After going to Harriet and John for help, he waits outside the castle until nightfall (uh, why?) when Fran returns, along with Miriam and a male "friend" name Rupert (Karl Lanchbury), whom the ladies claim to have just met earlier that afternoon. More sex follows until Ted conks out again. Miriam and Fran then get to work slashing up Rupert. He's found in a yet another car wreck the following day. Once again, our apparently brain-damaged male lead refuses to just leave the castle.

Even though she could kill Ted whenever she wanted, Fran is intentionally letting him live so she can keep him as a sex slave and continue to drink his blood. Why? It's never quite made clear as there's no hint there's a love connection going on there or anything of the sort. There's a slight hint this makes part time lover Miriam a little jealous, but that's never followed through with either and she's seen joining her partner in bed to share a meal later on. The two women continue to get fully nude and kill a few more people, including a wine connoisseur (Michael Byrne), and then the film pretty much just ends.

Many reviews I've seen refer to this as "erotic" but the film didn't really strike me that way. I mean, sure, both lead actresses look good without their clothes on, but there's more to erotica than merely filming a beautiful naked body. This has some of the most poorly-choreographed, labored and awkward intimate scenes I've ever seen in any movie and the actors go about it in a way that makes them look like they've never had sex or even kissed another human being before in their lives! You'll see more people unnecessarily making duck lips in this film than on all of Instagram! Brown basically slobbers all over Morris (hard to blame him, but still...) and watching him trying to force his tongue into his clearly-disinterested co-star's mouth over and over again is neither sexy nor erotic. The lesbian bits are slightly better (mostly because Brown isn't in them), though the actresses seem to be at a loss as to what to do and appear nigh uncomfortable. At a bare minimum, effective erotica (soft or hard) needs to have performers who are either really into it and having fun, or can at least convincingly fake it, and that's about the opposite of what we get here.

This is mostly a bust as a horror film as well because instead of trying to scare viewers or build intrigue and suspense, it's too busy being slow, aimless and generically arty because that's what these films do when there's no actual plot to focus on. The few mystery elements that are present are only here because the plot wasn't very well thought out. Who killed the girls? Why do they drink blood? Why does the hotelier recognize Ted and then nothing else is said about it? Why do Ted and the camping couple stick around the entire time basically asking to get slaughtered when they have access to functioning vehicles the entire time? Why does Fran have her own chaise lounge to sprawl out on in the cellar while poor Miriam has to sleep in the corner crouched on the floor when they have an entire castle full of ornate furniture upstairs? These are all questions that I doubt even the filmmakers themselves could answer.

That leaves a few other possible redeeming factors. The first, of course, is the ample nudity from the two leads. Morris and Dziubinska were primarily glamour models prior to appearing in this and, in interviews, the director didn't beat around the bush admitting they were hired solely based on their looks. Due to their inexperience, both had their performances dubbed over by other actresses after filming was completed (Annie Ross provides the voice for Morris' character). The less-glamorous though more talented Faulkner is also asked to chip in on the nudity toward the end, but these scenes feel really forced and unnecessary. Other points of interest include generous blood flow during a few of the attack scenes, nice costumes, interior décor and shooting locations and the occasionally nicely-framed and lit shot of the British countryside courtesy of D.O.P. Harry Waxman. Not quite the stuff of a classic, but I can say the basic visual competence on display here did help this horribly-written film go down a little smoother than it otherwise would have.

Written in just five days, this managed to leap from the pre-production stages through filming and then post-production in just nine weeks! Now that is impressive. The budget was £42,000, mostly put up by producer and frequent Larraz collaborator Brian Smedley- Aston. The castle used is Oakley Court in Berkshire; a familiar shooting location also seen in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and numerous Sherlock Holmes and Hammer horror films.

This played theatrically in Australia, Canada and the U. S. in 1975; about a year before it was even released in its country of origin. In the UK, it played on a double bill with the American occult thriller The Devil's Rain in 1976. Despite having three minutes removed by censors, the British theatrical release was still given an X rating. There have been a whole slew of home video releases for this one, starting with a 1986 VHS release from Majestic Home Video (under the title Satan's Daughters) and a 1987 VHS release from Magnum Entertainment. The DVD distributors were Blue Underground and Anchor Bay. In 2019, Arrow released a Blu-ray jam-packed with extras as part of a Larraz box set called Blood Hunger; another alternative title used for the Canadian VHS release.

Remade in 2015 (under the same title) by Spanish director Víctor Matellano.

Baoh Raihousha (1989)

... aka: バオー来訪者
... aka: Baoh
... aka: Baoh the Caller
... aka: Baoh: The Visitor
... aka: Biological Weapon "Baoh"

Directed by:
Hiroyuki Yokoyama

Hirohiko Araki's manga of the same name, which was published by Weekly Shōnen Jump / Shueisha's Jump Comics from October 1984 until February 1985, is the basis for this 48-minute OVA. Unlike some of Araki's other work, namely his extremely popular JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, which began in 1987, is still going strong today over 30 years later and has spawned a huge media empire that includes comics, videos, TV shows, movies (including a live-action theatrical release in 2017 directed by Takashi Miike), video games, novels, clothing, CDs and much more, Baoh was a short-lived property that spawned just this one video and little else. The main character did at least end up in the later JoJo video game All Star Battle.

The Doress Organization are conducting unorthodox, top secret scientific experiments on animals and humans alike aboard a train. One of their test subjects, a 9-year-old orphan girl named Sumire, escapes into another compartment, where project head Dr. Kasuminome and other scientists are involved in another experiment. The chaos leads to a leak in a water tank, which unleashes a muscular male test subject. The test subject, Sumire and Sumire's faithful little pet critter called Nottsuo, who's like a cross between a cat, a fox and a monkey and was part of yet another experiment, all manage to escape and are next seen homeless and in Tokyo.

The organization was interested in young Sumire (who was gladly handed over to them by the nuns at her orphanage) due to her powerful psychic abilities. She's able to see into the future, can break codes and sense whenever danger is near. The male test subject is Ikuro Hashizawa; a 17-year-old who had almost died in a car crash that also killed his parents. His body was then retrieved by Doress and he became the subject of their most ambitious project yet: Creating a nearly-unstoppable super soldier to give them military dominance over the rest of the world. Ikuro has had a parasitic worm-like creature ("Baoh," short for "Biological Armament On Help") that was created during a process of "accelerated evolution," implanted in his brain, which has given him a host of cool powers. For starters, he's super strong and can crush bones with his bare hands. Next, he is equipped with a protective shield over his skin, plus the ability to repair any injuries he's sustained, even those that would otherwise be fatal. And he has many other abilities as well!

With Ikuro out in the world, Doress puts out an order to kill him on sight and then burn his corpse, plus gives an OK to also eliminate Sumire if she happens to get in the way. An assassin named Number 22 is dispatched to destroy him. While he manages to stab Ikuro and slash his throat, Ikuro's regenerative abilities kick in and he's able to use another of his special powers that allows him to leak some acidic fluids from his palms, which he uses to melt the assassin's face clean off! Others are sent out to destroy them, including an entire team of highly-trained killers, a cyborg sniper with a perfect aim and a Native American super-psychic who introduces himself ("I am Walken, a warrior who thrives on carnage and destruction!") and is even kind enough to announce each of his powers before using them ("Molecular Seismic Wave! Hahahaha!") Eventually, Sumire is kidnapped, which forces Ikuro to break into the bad guy's compound to save her.

This is not a particularly well-written or well-plotted anime, but it makes up for that somewhat with a swift pace, good animation and, its greatest drawing card, extreme levels of bloody butchery! The gory violence, especially when it's directed toward test subject animals, can be a bit unsettling. During one scene, a Baoh-enhanced dog and a normal tiger are put in the same room as a demonstration for potential backers, which finds the animals clawing, biting and disemboweling one another until eyeballs and brains are oozing out onto the floor. The dog is then shot through the head and the Baoh parasite pops out of the mangled mutt's eye socket and gets torched, which is the only way to actually kill the creature.

Not that the violence directed toward the human characters is any less gruesome! We get hands and heads ripped right off, fingers cut off, heads pierced with shards of metal, impalements with stalactites, people set on fire and blown up and much more. Another of Ikuro's abilities is "Reskin Harden Sabre Phenomenon," which enables two razor-sharp blades to emerge from his arms, which he uses to slash, decapitate and slice heads in two; both side-to-side AND top-to-bottom. How's that for variety? There's also the "Shooting Bees' Sting Phenomenon," which gives him the ability to shoot deadly porcupine quills from his hair, and the "Break Dark Thunder Phenomenon," which gives him the option to create an extremely-powerful electric charge capable of making heads and bodies explode.

Despite being made primarily for the video market, this actually had a limited theatrical release in Japan several months before it debuted on home video. The manga was translated for U.S. consumption in 1990 and was followed by an English-dubbed release of this OVA in 1995 by AnimEigo (available on both VHS and laserdisc), followed by a DVD release in 2002 from the same company. It was also released in French, German and Italian language versions.

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