IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD (1983)

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HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD (1983)

Chinese period fantasy has brother Yin Tien Chu (Max Mok Siu-Chung) and sister Tan Fung (Yeung Ching-Ching) separated as babies, when their parents are murdered by a pair of evil wizards (Leanne Lau Suet-Wa and Philip Kwok Chun-Fung). Tan Fung is raised by the two villains, while Yin Tien Chu is rescued and raised by good sorcerer Monster Yu (Jason Piao Pai). Eighteen years later, while initially on opposite sides, both siblings are destined to be reunited for revenge. Mix in some mystically powered swords and you have yourself a Shaw Brothers sword and sorcery epic!

Fun martial arts fantasy is energetically directed by Chun-Ku Lu from his script with Kwok-Yuen Cheung, based on a story by Sang Siu. It heavily evokes Tsui Hark’s Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, which came out the same year. It doesn’t quite seem to have that film’s budget, or level of SPFX, but does make up for it by being delightfully bonkers, fast paced and action packed. The film is also incredibly colorful with enough lavish costumes and sets to satisfy most fans of these movies. The fights are well orchestrated and the fantasy elements can be quite imaginative and creative, especially on what appears to be a modest budget. The visual and make-up FX can be cheesy, but are always charming. The mix of martial arts and sorcery is typical of these Shaw Brothers flicks and all the magic, king fu, treachery and romance, leads up to a climactic stunt and SPFX filled battle between siblings and sorcerers. Fun stuff!

The cast are all good here with Max Mok Siu-Chung and Yeung Ching-Ching doing a solid job as the separated twin siblings. There is also an array of colorful supporting characters, both good and bad, played just over-the-top enough to be entertaining. Leanne Lau Suet-Wa and Philip Kwok Chun-Fung are delightfully villainous as the evil sorcerers Chief Tsing Yin and You-ming Elder, while Jason Piao Pai is bombastic fun as good sorcerer Monster Yu. There is also actress Candy Wen Xue-Er as “Snake Boy” and Yung Jing-Jing as Yin Tien Chu’s beautiful love interest Chuan Erh.

Overall, this is a silly but very fun martial arts fantasy. It’s production is not quite up to the level of the similar Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, but it makes up for it with being delightfully goofy and full of heart. There is almost a constant flow of martial arts and magic, and it moves very quickly as brother and sister fulfill their destiny and avenge their parents, in true Shaw Brothers style. It is currently available to rent on Amazon Prime and the print is in absolutely gorgeous HD!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) martial arts swords.
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BARE BONES: THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC (1981)

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THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC (1981)

1981 Indonesian horror is the basis for the recent quasi remake of the same name that has gotten some online attention. It has a very simple plot. The story finds pretty Murni (Suzzanna) betrayed by her lover (Alan Nuary) over another woman and accused of practicing black magic. She is thrown off a cliff by the terrified villagers, but survives. She is rescued by shaman Gendon (W.D. Muchtar) and given the powers of black magic to exact revenge on those who betrayed and tried to murder her.

Original version is directed by Lilik Sudjio from a script by Subagio Samtono, and aside from a revenge seeking woman named Murni and some gory black magic practicing, there is little carried over to the 2019 Joko Anwar written flick. This film is a fun and very gory supernatural revenge flick with plenty of maggots, flying heads and levitations. There is even a dash of martial arts. The FX utilized range from simple but effective to delightfully cheesy. After what Murni was put through, we don’t exactly root against her, when she gruesomely kills those who tossed her off a cliff. Actress Suzzanna is very pretty and charming one minute and fierce the next. Her Murni is reluctant at first, but soon finds the anger to exact her vengeance. There is even an interesting twist during the climactic confrontation that will pit student against teacher. While it lacks the remake’s depth of background story, this version knows to give us a break now and then and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at only 89 minutes in length. Overall, this is an amusing and fun supernatural horror with both versions now available to stream on Shudder. Either version is worth a look.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: KING KONG vs. GODZILLA (1962)

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KING KONG vs. GODZILLA (1962)

With Legendary’s rematch finally on the horizon for release, maybe it’s time to look back at Godzilla and Kong’s first cinematic slugfest. This review is of the original Japanese language version.

The story finds Godzilla breaking out of his icy prison after seven years and, once more, heading for Japan, after he makes a quick snack of a nuclear submarine. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical company CEO Tako (Ichirō Arishima) is looking for something big to boost the ratings of the TV shows his company sponsors. Rumors of a large creature on a Pacific island may be just what he needs. The creature is a massive ape known as Kong and Tako plans to bring the beast to Japan. Obviously, Godzilla and an escaped Kong arrive on Japanese shores at the same time and are destined to cross paths and lock horns.

Flick is directed by Ishirō Honda from a script by Shinichi Sekizawa. The film is a lot lighter than the first two Godzilla films and goes for more comical situations than dramatic intensity…though it has that, too. Godzilla is clearly the bad guy here with Japanese authorities even provoking a second fight between the titans, after Godzilla’s heat ray cause Kong to retreat the first time around. The film is colorful, as were most of the 60s era Godzilla flicks and the FX from the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya range from some really elaborate model work to the sadly inadequate Kong costume, which looks like a Halloween ape suit. The arms laughably and drastically change length from shot to shot. Kong is the underdog here, with Godzilla portrayed as bigger and more powerful. Kong is given an added caveat of being able to absorb power from electricity to even up the odds. The battles are fun, though keeping in consistency with the rest of the flick, carry a lighter, more humorous tone. There is a lot of damage caused by both Kong and Godzilla when they are apart and utter destruction when they are in combat. The human drama is amusing enough to occupy us whenever our colossal critters are not on screen, which isn’t often and Kong gets to show he still has a way with the ladies. Legendary Toho composer Akira Ifukube provides another classic score. It’s a fun movie, though slightly disappointing for those expecting the more serious tone of both Godzilla and Kong’s original movies.

The cast are all good. Ichirō Arishima was known in his native land as the “Japanese Chaplin” and one can see why, as the actor delivers a fun performance of both exaggerated line delivery and physical comedy. Toho veteran Tadao Takashima and Yū Fujiki share hero duties as Osamu Sakurai and Kinsaburo Furueshare, the two PR men sent to retrieve Kong and then get involved with the carnage between the big ape and his opponent. Joining the two is Bond girl Mie Hama as Osamu’s sister Fumiko and Toho veteran Kenji Sahara as Kazuo Fujita, her boyfriend. Haruo Nakajima once again does a great job in the Godzilla suit, as does Shoichi Hirose give Kong a lot of character despite the sub-par gorilla suit. Ironically Nakajima would get to play Kong, too, in Toho’s only other Kong adventure, King Kong Escapes.

Despite being a sillier entry in Godzilla’s early filmography, Kong was said to be popular in Japan, so the film pairing of the two monsters was a big hit and remains one of the top grossing Toho Godzilla flicks. It’s a lot of fun and fast moving at 97 minutes long. The FX are standard for Toho sci-fi flicks of this era, save for the awful Kong costume, and there is a lot of destruction for the buck. For almost 60 years, a rumor has persisted that there are two versions of the film, with Godzilla winning in the Japanese version and Kong winning in the U.S. version. Despite Universal’s U.S. version being heavily edited, with some new footage of Western actors added in, the ending remains the same with both monsters tumbling into the sea. Kong surfaces, swimming off and Godzilla remains underwater, his fate uncertain until the next flick. Godzilla would re-emerge in 1964 for Mothra vs. Godzilla and Kong would fight his mechanical double for Toho in 1967’s King Kong Escapes also starring Mie Hama.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

3 rampaging Godzillas.

godzilla vs biollante rating

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BARE BONES: DRAGON WARS: D-WAR (2007)

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DRAGON WARS: D-WAR (2007)

Korean monster movie finds a young woman named Sara (Amanda Brooks) being the reincarnation of the Yuh Yi Joo, a being able to give great power to a chosen one amongst dragons, here called imoogis. An evil imoogi named Buraki comes to Los Angeles to track her down and steal that power, and brings a formidable army of monsters with him. With the city under siege, chosen protector Ethan (Jason Behr) must also find Sara to keep the Yuh Yi Joo from falling into Buraki’s hands.

Dragon Wars: D-War is a lot of fun as long as you’re willing to put up with a lot of nonsense to have that fun. Flick is directed by Shim Hyung-rae from his own silly script. The plot is goofy, as is the dialog, and the acting is fairly wooden. This Korean fantasy makes up for all the campiness, though, with some top notch SPFX and spectacular battle sequences, including a climactic battle to the death between good and evil imoogis. The siege on L.A. by an army of monsters is alone worth the price of a rental on Amazon Prime, at least for kaiju fans. If you like monster movies and don’t mind the campy silliness that can come with some of them, then this should be an entertaining evening on the couch. Some of your favorite brews might help. Also stars familiar faces Chris Mulkey, Elizabeth Peña, Craig Robinson, former Jason Voorhees Derek Mears as a bounty hunter and the legendary Robert Forster as Ethan’s mentor. Supposedly there is a prequel from Shim Hyung-rae in the planning all these years later.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: HUMAN LANTERNS (1982)

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HUMAN LANTERNS (REN PI DENG LONG) (1982)

While Shaw Brothers Studios was renown for it’s martial arts epics in the 70s and 80s, they made their share of horror flicks, too and here they mixed the two genres for this particular cult classic. Period piece has the arrogant and vain Lung Shu Ai (Tony Liu) in competition with his rival, another entrepreneur, Tan Fu (Kuan Tai Chen) for the upcoming Lantern Festival. He is so intent on winning, he turns to former enemy Chao Chun-Fang (Lieh Lo) to make him a lantern sure to win. Deranged and vengeful for being humiliated by Lung seven years earlier, a masked Chao begins to sadistically murder beautiful women to use their skin to make his ornate lanterns. Soon there is a trail of mutilated bodies that has the local village terrified and is leading, unknowingly, towards Lung’s wife (Ni Tien).

This martial arts horror has developed a cult following and a reputation over the almost forty years since it’s release. It is directed by Chung Sun from his script with Kuang Ni and is a bizarre midnight movie indeed, mixing slasher and swordplay. It has all the elements of a Shaw Brothers martial arts film, such as beautiful costumes, gorgeous settings and sumptuous cinematography, here by An-Sung Tsao. There are plenty of martial arts battles and sword fights, too, but it is also drenched in blood and body parts, as any traditional horror flick might be. Chung Sun has quite an eye for horror visuals, such as fog shrouded forests, a leaping, cackling, skull-masked villain and a fiend’s lair filled with, bones, body parts and bound damsels. There is plenty of blood and gore as the psychotic Chao Chun-Fang kidnaps beautiful ladies and torments and kills them, gruesomely taking their skin to complete his lanterns. The scenes are just long enough to be effective, and the gore effects are well done enough to work, but nothing overly shocking by today’s standards. The cast are all good and it is interesting that, aside from the female victims, there are no sympathetic characters or outright heroes to root for. Tony Liu’s Lung is simply a self-centered jerk, Kuan Tai Chen’s Tan isn’t much better and obviously, Chao Chun-Fang is a complete nut-job. Even the local police are easily fooled and befuddled. Still, there is a well tempered mix of bloody mayhem and martial arts pageantry that works far better than it should, even if, overall, the flick doesn’t quite live up to it’s reputation on a first time viewing. It’s ultimately not as disturbing or gross as expected, considering it’s notoriety for so many years, though it is still quite gruesome at times.

So, if you’re thirty-eight years late to the gory party, you may not quite understand what all the fuss is about. Back in 1982, the mix of gruesome horror and martial arts action may have taken audiences by surprise and well it should have. By today’s standards, it’s not quite as horrifying as it’s longstanding reputation would have one believe. It’s still entertaining and effective, as both gory, 80s horror movie and martial arts adventure, and even if it doesn’t quite have the “wow” factor expected, it is still a bloody fun midnight movie that has earned it’s niche as a cult classic on multiple continents. Flick is now streaming on Amazon Prime for those wanting to check it out.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) lanterns made out of ???

 

 

 

 

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: PENINSULA (2020)

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PENINSULA (2020)

Korean horror/thriller is a fun, if not extremely derivative, sequel to the 2016 zombie outbreak flick Train To Busan. This installment takes place four years later with the Korean Peninsula abandoned and quarantined by the rest of the world. A barren, zombie infested wasteland. Ex-soldier Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) now lives in Hong Kong, with his brother in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) and the two relocated Koreans are treated like outcasts and live in squalor. A local mobster offers the duo a chance to make enough money to get themselves out of the gutter. They and some other expatriated Koreans are tasked with going back into the quarantine zone and retrieving a truck filled with $20 million in American dollars. The heist goes awry and Jung-seok finds to his horror that there are two groups of survivors still living there, a family he’s encountered before and an ex-military unit who may be more dangerous than the hordes of flesh eating undead. Can Jung-seok, Chul-min and their new allies get out alive against both hungry zombies and crazed soldiers?

Yeon Sang-ho again directs with a script from he and Park Joo-suk. This sequel isn’t quite as much of a roller coaster ride as Train, but is still entertaining. While Train put a fresh coat of paint on the well-worn zombie sub-genre, Peninsula seems content to spin a yarn that is parts of Romero’s Day and Land of the Dead, a large portion of the Governor story arc from The Walking Dead and part Road Warrior with a last act truck chase. The film is more concerned with the drama between the human factions and while there are plenty of zombie’s, they do take a back seat to Jung-seok and pretty survivor Min-jun (Lee Jung-hyun) trying to get the truck and Chul-min back from the Unit 631 compound, which is run by the vicious Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-jae) and demented Captain Seo. It’s entertaining, yes, but seems far less fresh and far less energetic than the previous flick. Train was nothing new, but Peninsula seems to make less of an effort to revitalize it’s familiar tale. Another thing that holds it back is a heavy use of only moderately effective CGI. A lot of the zombie action and the truck chase at the end are obvious CGI effects and it takes away it’s effectiveness. The truck chase looks like a video game at times and it keeps us from being too drawn in like Road Warrior‘s intense chase finale. In between we get innocents forced to battle zombies for entertainment and a preconscious child who always outsmarts and saves the adults. There is a lot of bloody violence, but nothing too gory and Yeon Sang-ho does paint an impressive apocalyptic picture of the abandoned and zombie infested South Korea. The movie adds the appropriate melodrama with Jung-seok haunted by his past, and his link to Min-jun and her daughters. This gives the film a little emotional content and at the end we are entertained, but it is far less memorable than it’s predecessor.

The cast are all solid. Gang Dong-won makes a good hero as the guilt-ridden, ex- soldier Jung-seok. He plays his inner turmoil well and he is a good action hero. Lee Jung-hyun is a solid heroine as mother and survivor Min-jun. She’s tough and quite the fighter, but still has her humanity. Lee Ye-Won is cute and thankfully avoids being annoying, in the precocious child role of younger daughter Yoo-Jin and Lee Re is likable as her tough teen sister Jooni. Kim Do-yoon is also fine as the embattled Chul-min, who is captured by Unit 631. Rounding out are Kim Min-jae as the cruel and vicious Sergeant Hwang, who is Sang-ho’s equivalent of Day of the Dead’s Captain Rhodes, and Koo Kyo-hwan as the desperate and deceptive Captain Seo. A good cast.

So, in conclusion, while it’s not an equal, Peninsula is still an action packed and entertaining sequel to Train To Busan. While it’s predecessor also reused a lot of ideas from past zombie epics, it seemed far fresher than the recycled ideas do here in this second installment. At almost two hours long this is still a fast paced and sometimes bloody adventure, though not quite as energetic and intense as Train To Busan. Familiar, not quite as energized, but still fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) bullets, which a lot of fly in this movie.

 

 

 

 

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR (1993)

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THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR (1993)

The Bride With White Hair is a martial arts, fantasy, romance and is a fairy tale-like story that finds handsome warrior Zhuo Yihang (Leslie Cheung from A Chinese Ghost Story) falling in love with beautiful witch Lian Nichang (Brigitte Lin from ZuWarriors from the Magic Mountain), who belongs to an evil cult Zhuo is tasked with destroying. As the two defy their orders and superiors, forces conspire against them, including He Lühua (Yammie Lam), a woman warrior with eyes for Zhuo Yihang and the vengeful, jealous conjoined twin cult leader, Ji Wushuang (Francis Ng and Elaine Lui).

Flick is one of the best examples of the Hong Kong cinema revival of the 80s and 90s and has all the action, fantasy, love and betrayal one could want. It is a sumptuous visual feast as directed by Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky, Freddy vs Jason), from a script he wrote with Lam Kei-to, Elsa Tang and David Wu. You can see where Yu’s American horror flicks got their stunning cinematography, blood-spattered action and twisted sense of humor, as they are all present here. There are dazzling sword duels, dark magic, gallant heroes, vile villains and a seductive wolf witch to keep one entertained for it’s economical 92 minutes. There is an eroticism to many scenes that the Hong Kong cinema usually reserved for their more intense Category III films and there is quite a lot of blood spurting and severed heads, not to mention the disturbing portrayal of it’s conjoined twin villains. The costumes are lavish, as are the settings, the cinematography by Peter Pau and Lee Tak-shing is sumptuous and the score by Richard Yuen suits the dark fantasy atmosphere perfectly. Sure Zhuo Yihang and Lian Nichang’s love making scene seems to go on a bit too long and Zhuo Yihang’s belief that she may have betrayed him comes a bit too quickly, especially considering his vow to always trust her. Otherwise this is an enormously entertaining dark fairy tale, romance for grown-ups and one of the most renown classics of this era of Hong Kong cinema.

A great cast helps Yu tell his story well. Leslie Cheung’s handsome warrior Zhuo Yihang is a far cry from his timid tax collector from the Chinese Ghost Story movies, but no less a solid romantic lead/action hero. He’s charming, brazen, lethal and sexy, when he appropriately needs to be. Brigitte Lin is beautiful and intriguing as wolf witch Lian Nichang. She can be a fierce and deadly warrior, yet also very sexy and playful, depending on the scene and is very convincing as all of the above. She and Cheung have a great on-screen chemistry and generate some nice heat. When forces pit them against each other, they make good adversaries. Francis Ng and Elaine Lui are really creepy as the conjoined twin leaders of the cult. They exude power and malice, yet their constant bickering and antagonizing of one another really adds a twisted dimension to them. A disturbing duo. The rest of the supporting cast give solid performances, too!

Overall, this is a great film and the type of movie the Hong Kong cinema was so skilled at making during this era. The film looks fantastic, the action scenes are fast, furious and bloody and the romantic scenes generate some real heat. There is a bit of a twisted humor to it and some legitimately spooky scenes as well. Not quite perfect, but close to it and enormously entertaining. There was a lesser sequel released only months later directed by David Wu and a TV series in 2012. The Bride With White Hair is currently streaming free on Tubi!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) swords

 

 

 

 

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: LEGEND OF THE FIST-THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN (2010)

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LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN (2010)

Over the last decade, legendary martial arts star Donnie Yen took over the Hong Kong action cinema, with Jackie Chan and Jet Li slowing down their film appearances, and he has certainly become one of their hardest working stars. Yen followed the acclaimed Ip Man series with this 2010 story featuring Chinese martial arts movie hero Chen Zhen, previously embodied by Li in Fist of Legend and before him, by the legendary Bruce Lee in Fists of Fury.

This film adventure of the classic character is directed by Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs) from a script by Cheung Chi-shing and Gordon Chan. Chen Zhen is portrayed here as a World War I hero who returns home to find Japan planning to invade mainland China. Zhen becomes a masked freedom fighter, during Japan’s occupation of Shanghai, to thwart their efforts. Of course, there is treachery, femme fatales and legions of enemies in his way. As usual with these films, there is plenty of action, heart stopping stunts and beautiful women, all highlighted by some sumptuous cinematography from director Andrew Lau and Ng Man-ching.

While Legend of the Fist does indeed resemble a mix of Li’s Fist of Legend and his superhero action epic Black Mask, it is also colorful and entertaining enough to let it slide, as we are treated to a martial arts period flick filled with intrigue, action, betrayal and heroism. It’s a film that evokes the Hong Kong glory days of the 90s, one that is hard not to like, despite it’s derivative storyline. Flick also stars Hong Kong cinema beauty Shu Qi as a Japanese spy and legendary Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong as a club owner. A top notch cast. Yen himself choreographed the fight scenes. Familiar but fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) swords
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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: SWEET HOME (1989)

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SWEET HOME (1989)

Hard to find haunted house flick has TV producer Kazuo Hoshino (Shingo Yamashiro) bringing a crew to the supposedly haunted Mamiya mansion that has been sealed for thirty years. It was the home of famed artist Ichirō Mamiya and Kazuo believes his final works rest inside. Along for the production are his daughter Emi (Nokko), reporter Asuka (Fukumi Kuroda), cinematographer Ryō Taguchi (Ichiro Furutachi) and Akiko Hayakawa (Nobuko Miyamoto) his producer whom he has feelings for. Once inside they find that all the rumors are horribly true as a terrible incident decades earlier has left a vengeful spirit lurking inside the mansion.

Film is written and directed very effectively by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. All the haunted house traditions are present with the mansion itself being a very spooky and deserted place. There is a tragic backstory to give our haunting it’s purpose and a group of individuals who refuse to believe the folklore of the house, until it’s too late. Stormy nights, grotesque phantoms and some gory deaths are presented in a very entertaining fashion with Kiyoshi Kurosawa giving us just enough time to get to know the characters before the spooks hit the fan. It even has an old gas station attendant, Yamamura (producer Jûzô Itami), to give the traditional warnings and exposition. It’s a lot of spooky and gruesome fun and the make-up effects are not only nostalgically practical, it was the 80s after all, but done by make-up effects legend Dick Smith. When we finally see Lady Mamiya’s spirit in full view, it doesn’t disappoint. There are some chills, thrills, some blood spilled and a very exciting and suspenseful climax, as our survivors face the angry spirit head-on. You even need to watch through the credits for something extra. It’s a very entertaining haunted house flick that can stand on it’s own up against flicks like Poltergeist which set a standard in the 80s. Atmospherically directed, the house setting itself is great and there is just enough humor to make it fun without offsetting the scares. Despite being a familiar tale, the movie has it’s own creepy identity and likable characters to fear for.

As those characters, we have a solid cast. Yamashiro is good as Hoshino. He’s a likable guy and avoids the arrogance most characters like this carry. His intentions are good. Popstar Nokko is endearing as Hoshino’s teen daughter Emi. She’s rebellious, though not annoying and serves as a damsel in distress in the final act. Nobuko Miyamoto is widower Hoshino’s producer. A pretty woman he has feelings for and a strong heroine when all Hell breaks loose. Ichiro Furutachi and Fukumi Kuroda are fine in their roles, though they serve more as body count. Rounding out is producer Jûzô Itami, who is good in the classic role as Yamamura. An efficient and likable cast.

In conclusion, this flick desperately needs a blu-ray release! It was spooky, gory fun and had a likable group of characters ignoring the classic warnings to suffer the consequences. There were some great practical make-up FX from the late, great Dick Smith and a very creepy house where it’s paranormal action takes place. A very solid and old fashioned haunted house flick from Japan.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) spooks

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: MICHIO YAMAMOTO’S BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY

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MICHIO YAMAMOTO’S BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY

Between 1970 and 1974 Toho Studios produced three vampire movies under the guidance of director Michio Yamamoto. The director had only one feature film under his belt before these flicks, a crime drama for Toho, and despite how well these turned out, he would come to direct only one other full length film. While certainly Japanese productions, this trio of vampire flicks display a lot of the traditions of the genre, with coffins, gothic houses, ghoulish villains, spooky and sexy vampire girls, along with beautiful damsels and brave heroes. They feature some familiar Toho faces and have become known as The Bloodthirsty Trilogy. These three vampire flicks from the legendary studio are certainly worth a look by any vampire or horror movie fan.

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THE VAMPIRE DOLL (1970)

First of the trilogy finds Kazuhiko (Atsuo Nakamura) returning from business abroad to visit his fiancé Yuko (Yukiko Kobayashi from Destroy All Monsters). Her mother (Yoko Minazake) tells him Yuko died in an accident, but then why is he seeing her at night? When Kazuhiko disappears, his sister Keiko (Shogun Assassin’s Kayo Matsuo) and her fiancé (Akira Nakao) go to Yuko’s home village to investigate. What they find is something out of a nightmare…one they may not wake up from.

The Vampire Doll (Chi o suu ningyo) is a spooky flick as directed by Yamamoto from a script by Ei Ogawa and Hiroshi Nagano. It’s almost a gothic fairy tale as a young woman from tragic beginnings walks the earth in death, in search of blood. It’s got loads of atmosphere, a few surprises, follows the classic tropes well and has a charming cast. Yukiko Kobayashi makes for a sexy yet scary vampire and Kayo Matsuo, a classic damsel in distress. There is some blood, but the film is mostly atmosphere and Yamamoto proves he has an effective visual style for such a tale.

Rated 3 (out of 4) fangs!

Yukiko Kobayashi as the young woman turned monster, Yuko.

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LAKE OF DRACULA (1971)

Second film (known as Noroi no yakata – Chi o suu me in Japan) finds pretty Akiko (Midori Fujita) still suffering from a childhood trauma that she experienced as a little girl in a spooky old house. The nightmare returns, when the fiendish man (Shin Kishida from 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla) she saw back then, now stalks her lakeside village draining blood from his victims. Can her doctor boyfriend (Osahide Takahashi) save her and her sister (Sanae Emi) from this bloodthirsty fiend?

Yamamoto’s second foray into vampire folklore is again written by Ei Ogawa, this time along with Masaru Takesue. Once more he delivers a film that is is atmospheric and spooky. Shin Kishida makes for a creepy vampire and the flick is filled with gothic visuals such as the expected old houses, coffins and fanged fiends. Here the vampire is said to be a descendant of Dracula, as his father had Dracula family blood in him. As usual in these films, our bloodsucker has some sexy vampire girls to accompany him. Another solid and spooky entry in this series.

3 (out of 4) fangs!

Shin Kishida as Lake of Dracula’s unnamed vampire.

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EVIL OF DRACULA (1974)

Final film in this trilogy shows Yamamoto is really sinking his teeth into vampire lore. It finds teacher Professor Shiraki (Toshio Kurosawa) journeying to his new job at an all girls school. Soon he finds trouble as someone, or something, is stalking the nubile young students and there have been disappearances. A disturbing first night at the recently widowed principal’s (Shin Kishida) house leads Shiraki to believe he’s involved. Shiraki’s beliefs may get him and pretty student Kumi (Mariko Mochizuki) killed, as the principal and his recently dead wife (Mika Katsuragi) may be something unearthly.

Evil of Dracula, or Chi o Sū Bara as it is known in Japan, is Yamamoto’s last vampire film for Toho and is again written by Ei Ogawa and Masaru Takesue. It’s fiend’s origin comes from a legend that a Westerner, who was shipwrecked in Japan centuries before, was cursed for denouncing his Christian faith and thus became a vampire. The flick is atmospheric, Kishida once again makes a creepy bloodsucker, though his vampire principal here is no relation to Lake of Dracula’s fiend, and Katsuragi is also effective as his vampire wife. There is nudity in this one, as our vampire prefers to bite his pretty victims on the breast and it might be the most gruesome with bloodletting and face stealing among the ghoulish activities. This was the last film in the trilogy, Toho seemingly quitting while they were ahead with three solid entries.

3 (out of 4) fangs!

Shin Kishida as the fiendish principal snacking on his students.

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In conclusion, this is a spooky and atmospheric series. Three stand alone films that have no connection other than the subject matter and actor Shin Kishida playing the lead vampire role twice. They were moderately paced, but none of them overstayed their welcome, with the longest being only 85 minutes. Yamamoto proved he had an eye for gothic visuals and gave us plenty of fangs, blood, creepy old houses and a bevy of pretty vampire girls. Despite doing a good job with these three flicks, Evil of Dracula would be his last feature film before doing some television work and then fading from the business.

All three Bloodthirsty Trilogy flicks are now available on Amazon Streaming and in a blu-ray set from Arrow Video.

Japan’s Christopher Lee? Shin Kishida sans make-up.

photo: https://wikizilla.org/

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 -MonsterZero NJ
Sources IMDB/Wikipedia

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