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.

Molly and the Ghost (1991) (f/1990)

Directed by:
Donald Jones

Causing much filmography confusion over the years, there were two different horror / exploitation directors named Donald Jones working in the 80s. Muddying the waters a bit further, both men not only directed films but also worked as writers, editors, cinematographers and in other capacities behind the scenes. The first, Donald Marcus Jones (usually billed as Donald Jones or Donald M. Jones), was born in California in the late 1950s and was responsible for such video store shelf fillers as Murderlust (1985), Project Nightmare (1987) and Housewife from Hell (1993). As of 2017, he was still working. The other, Donald Evan Jones (usually billed as Don Jones or Donald Jones) and the director of the movie we'll be taking a look at today, had been around much longer. Born in 1938, this Don Jones started working in the 1960s alongside the likes of Roger Corman, A.C. Stephen, Ted V. Mikels, Jack Hill, Gary Graver, David L. Hewitt and countless other notable exploitation filmmakers. By 1970, he was directing his own films and he went on to make some entertaining exploitation flicks like Schoolgirls in Chains (1973) and The Love Butcher (1975), plus the not-very-well-regarded backwoods slasher flick The Forest (1982). Molly and the Ghost would be his final film as director, though he continued to work (mostly doing sound) on documentaries until 2007. He passed away just a few months ago at the age of 83.

There were a few pleasant surprises for me right away. Firstly, the female lead is Ena Henderson, an unknown young actress that I was impressed with in the SOV film FATAL EXPOSURE (1989). In that, she not only looked gorgeous but also displayed above average acting chops; a combination of which should have resulted in a better career, or at least a formidable B-movie career. I had no clue she'd even done other things, so I was more than happy to see her pop up here yet again in another lead role. According to her IMDb page, after starring in just these two films, she took a long hiatus to raise a family but is now residing in Denver, Colorado and is back to acting. She still looks great, so best of luck to her.

The second casting surprise is the male lead, who's billed as "Ron Moriarty." IMDb lists only two credits for him: this and the notoriously awful SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1986). I knew this guy looked familiar but it took me a second to place him. "Ron Moriarty" is Tim Abell. Abell first hit my radar starring in a bunch of Fred Olen Ray films like Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold (1995) and Hybrid (1997), plus a slew of erotic thrillers, where he stood out as a better actor than usual for that genre and for his willingness to join the female cast members in providing full frontal nudity (something not at all common back then). Though Tim seemed to materialize out of thin air in the mid 90s, his film career began a decade earlier. Back then he was mostly using the name "Ron Waldron" (see: the shot-on-video HELL SPA).

After getting into a fight with her father, 17-year-old small town girl Susan Maguire (Henderson) runs away to the Los Angeles suburbs to locate her estranged 30-something sister, Molly (Lee Darling). Molly has done well for herself from humble beginnings; getting a job as a Realtor and recently marrying equally successful businessman Jeff (Abell). When Susan shows up at their door with a suitcase, a delighted Molly agrees to let her stay there for awhile. Susan soon proves to be something of a scheming sociopath. She lounges around in the Jacuzzi topless, blares rock n' roll music, steals money and jewelry, spies on her sibling having sex and then slips on some lingerie and attempts to seduce Jeff. When Molly catches the two of them sitting in bed together, she buys Susan a one-way plane ticket back home and kicks her out.

Instead of going home, Susan has the taxi driver dump her off in Hollywood. She gets a room in a sleazy hotel and then hits Hollywood Boulevard. After being mistaken for a hooker and getting chased by a couple of men, she ducks into a bar. There she meets a pothead 'Nam vet (P. K. Flamingo... if that is your real name!) who claims to be a hit man. Offering him sex in exchange for chopping up her sister with a machete, the attempted hit doesn't go off as planned when the incompetent would-be assassin gets cold feet and runs off. Susan then calls Molly and pleads with her to allow her to come back. After Molly has a truly bizarre conversation with her husband ("Did either one of you seduce the other? I mean, it's OK if you did, at least you kept it in the family" [!?]), the two agree that it'd be a good idea to give Susan a second chance. Of course it turns out to be a TERRIBLE idea as Susan wastes no time picking up right where she left off.

Susan hooks up with a long-haired, pseudo-military nut named John (Daniel Martine) that she meets in the classified ads in a gun magazine. He agrees to off Molly for 5 thousand bucks; 1K up front and then the 4K upon completion. Lying about wanting to get into a computer class, Susan bums the money off of Molly and Jeff. Unfortunately, she sends the assassin the wrong photograph: One of herself. Doh! John then sneaks into the home and strangles her to death.

Susan's ghost materializes in a graveyard and she's picked up by a white limousine by her spirit guide ("Lyric Lawson" / veteran actress Carole Wells, also the executive producer), who plans on transporting her to the beyond. However, feeling she has unsettled business to attend to, Susan uses a loophole that allows her to return to Earth. The only problem is that there's only a short window of time and if she strays too far or stays out too long, her entrance to the beyond will close permanently, forcing to her be a wandering spirit for the rest of eternity. Nevertheless, she feels it's more important to get "revenge" for her death (that SHE caused, but never mind all that!) and terrorize her sister.

The ghost first lures the contract killer out into the desert for a slow-mo shoot-out that ends with him impaled on a tree branch. She then starts haunting her sister and brother-in-law and refuses to leave them alone. She pops up on a TV screen repeatedly ("I'm baaaaaaaack!"), destroys their cups, plates and vases, slaps her sister, seduces Jeff (again) and drives their friends away by playing a porno on the TV set and then pelting them with VHS tapes. The couple eventually resort to enlisting the aid of an incompetent parapsychology professor (Reg Green) and his bimbo grad student assistant (Stephanie Johnson), who flee after Susan shows up with a bunch of horribly-animated snakes coming out of her face. The last act features a little body swapping and a possession.

A mash-up of a supernatural horror-comedy, made-for-TV thriller and soap opera, this unimaginatively directed and flatly-photographed 16mm cheapie is so clumsy, misjudged and all over the place that I can't say I was ever bored! 

Though I usually like him as an actor, Abell gives a bland performance and makes no impression whatsoever here. He also made a notable physical transformation in just a few short years. In this, he's pale, awkward and gangly looking, making it hard to swallow that two attractive women would be fighting over him. Just five years later he was tan, buff and looking good paired up with late night cable vixens like Shauna O'Brien and Tane McClure. Thankfully, the two female stars manage to keep things rolling. Henderson is a lot better in the first half when she's playing her bitchy, backstabbing human character than she is as a one-liner-spouting ghost, but she's still very entertaining and has great animated facial expressions. Just like most of the rest of the cast, I suspect her co-star, Lee Darling, is using an alias because there are plenty of moments in here that show her to be a competent actress. Both ladies contribute a bit of nudity as well but when I say a "bit" I mean it. It's limited to one scene apiece and it's so brief it may as well not even be in here.

Produced by the director and actor James R. Sweeney, who shows up very briefly in an uncredited cameo as a detective (he has no dialogue and is only seen in a long shot). Jean L. Clark, a Hollywood sound man who also acted in a lot of Gary Graver films, was another producer. The only VHS release I'm aware of was in the UK on the 20:20 Vision label, but there are later DVDs releases by Rareflix, who offer this either standalone or paired with two other movies: the Italian action film The Killer Likes Candy (1968) and the sci-fi film Run Like Hell (1995).

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...