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Lake of Dracula
(1971)
 

Director: Michio Yamamoto       
Cast: Midori Fujita, Osahide Takahashi, Shin Kishida


Japanese vampires: Essentially western vampires, though they can survive in daylight, are either (1) moronic and mute or (2) smart and talkative or (3) smart and with a Bela Lugosi-like dubbed voice, can be killed with stakes or fire, and are very patient - so vampires may enjoy this movie more than I did.

Initially interesting, but ultimately standard and unexciting, Lake of Dracula does at least give the opportunity to view Japan's view of vampires. While Chinese vampires at least hop around (!), Japanese vampires are apparently toothless.

The movie opens with a spectacular seaside shot at sunset, and is the most memorable image of the exercise. A little girl, Akiko, runs after her dog and discovers a mysterious mansion with a creepy elderly man outside. Running in, she bumps into a Japanese vampire. Aside from being Japanese, he doesn't seem much different than western vampires (in fact, his pale white makeup makes his facial features look more western). His clothing doesn't seem that different - the standard black clothing sans cape, and with a white scarf.

The scene ends here, and we jump years into the future, with Akiko now a grown woman. Her voice is done by the same dubber, but never mind about that. Living at a lakeside house with her sister, she has what seems to be a normal life, with a doctor boyfriend working in the city. We learn the previous events were dismissed as a dream by her parents, and even Akiko now believes it.

Strange things start to happen. A coffin is delivered to the fishing rental place, and the occupant (of the coffin) bites the owner. A female vampire appears. Akiko's sister's face turns pale, but nobody notices. Akiko herself is attacked by the zombie-like bitten owner, and barely manages to escape. She is also threatened by the chief vampire. Initially, Akiko's boyfriend has doubts that something supernatural is nearby, but when strange things start happening at the hospital he starts to slowly change his mind, leading to the inevitable final showdown.

I was sorely disappointed that the movie - aside from the Japanese actors and vehicles - had really nothing else that could be identified as Japanese. Replacing the Japanese actors and vehicles with Western ones, and you'd have almost no rewriting to do. You could even use the same locations, and not have to change things. If you are looking for some Japanese culture, you'll be disappointed.

Despite this, I wouldn't really have minded as long as the movie had an engaging story, good characters, and some genuine horror. Unfortunately, we get endless "_______-jumps-in-the-frame-to-jolt-the-audience" scenes; the story could have been told in half an hour, but is stretched out; and even the vampires have no personality. To top it off, the American distributor (UPA Productions) made some infuriating cuts, rendering parts of the story incomprehensible and the more violent aspects laughable or confusing. In one scene, the zombie vampire guy is about to clobber the doctor with a wrench during a thunderstorm. Next thing we know, he's lying on the ground, and we aren't sure how he was killed (lightning?).

There is one fascinating revelation in the movie, however. We learn that the vampire is the grandson of a European vampire noble who settled in Japan and married a Japanese woman (the vampire gene subsequently skipped a generation). I can't help but wonder if this was some kind of xenophobia - unconscious or otherwise - on the part of the filmmakers, considering that my studies of Japan at university revealed a long history of this, which exists in some forms even today. Were they implying that even after several generations, Japanese with foreign blood are still not considered Japanese? Or that the introduction of foreign blood is dangerous? Maybe someone could take a bite of this sometime.

Aside from a few amusing bits (a car's tires screech on mud, the head vampire has a long hissing fit), Lake of Dracula is a disappointment, though I can't recall it ever being boring or bad enough to be annoying. I've heard the follow-up, Evil of Dracula, is an improvement, so I'll review it later.

By the way, there is no Dracula.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Evil Of Dracula, The Black Room, The Night Flier

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