Legacy of Dracula

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Legacy of Dracula
1970 / Colour / 71 m. / Japan / Fear of the Ghost House: Bloodsucking Doll, The Vampire DollYureiyashiki no Kyofu: Chi O Suu Ningyo
Starring: Yukiko Kobayashi, Yoko Minazake, Kayo Matsuo, Akira Nakao, Atsuo Nakamura, Jun Yusami, Kaku Takashina
Cinematography: Kazutami Hara
Production Designer: Yoshifumi Honda
Film Editor: Koichi Iwashita
Original Music: Riichiro Manabe
Written by: El Ogawa and Hiroshi Nagano
Produced by: Fumio Tanaka and Tomoyuki Tanaka
Directed by: Michio Yamamoto

Reviewed by Lee Broughton

Synopsis:

Returning to Japan from a lengthy trip abroad, Kazuhiko Sagawa (Atsuo Nakamura) travels to the remote family home of his girlfriend, Yuko Nonomura (Yukiko Kobayashi), only to be told that she recently passed away. Forced to stay the night, Kazuhiko awakens to see Yuko outside his window and he subsequently disappears after chasing and confronting her. Yuko’s mother (Yoko Minazake) tells Kazuhiko’s concerned sister Keiko (Kayo Matsuo), and her boyfriend Hiroshi Takagi (Akira Nakao), that Kazuhiko was perfectly okay when he left her home after spending just one night there. But when the duo find one of Kazuhiko’s blood-stained cuff-links near Yuko’s grave they decide to stick around and investigate.


Critique:

Directed by Michio Yamamoto for Toho Studios, Legacy of Dracula essentially works as a rather neat test-run for some of the ideas and themes that Yamamoto would develop further in two subsequent vampire films, Lake of Dracula (1971) and Evil of Dracula (1974). Although the three films feature distinct and unconnected narratives that do not share any characters they are usually referred to collectively as the Bloodthirsty trilogy.

Legacy of Dracula contains most of the ingredients that made Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula such effective genre entries: the remote and isolated location, the unwary protagonists who become isolated themselves, the mix of suspenseful scenes and jolt-inducing ‘boo!’ moments, odd moments of unpleasantness, the gothic and spooky atmosphere and so on. It all works very well despite the lamentable absence of the kind of iconic vampire characters that Mori Kishida played so memorably in the latter two films.

The Nonomura family mansion is a typically creepy abode and good use is made of its claustrophobic corridors, dusty spare rooms and dark cellars. Nicely presented and decorated, its gothic style is explained away by a reference to the fact that Mrs Nonomura’s father-in-law was employed as a diplomat. Throw the raging thunder and lightning storm which welcomes Kazuhiko to the locality and Mrs Nonomura’s aggressive hulk of a manservant, Genzo (Kaku Takashina), into the mix and the scene is set for an intense, mystery-driven drama.

Legacy of Dracula isn’t quite as campy as Yamamoto’s later films in the Bloodthirsty trilogy, chiefly because it features very little incidental talk about vampires and virtually no vampiric activity in the traditional sense. Yuko is actually presented (on screen, at least) more as a wandering, unsettled ghost than as a predatory vampire. After dark her melancholic wails can be heard floating through the house but Mrs Nonomura calmly dismisses the noise as being the sound of the wind blowing through a skylight.

Parts of the film play more like a taut psychological thriller, especially when Keiko and Hiroshi foolishly fake car trouble in order to get to spend the night at the Nonomura place and take a snoop around. Their subsequent questioning of locals at the nearest town, and a trawl through the Town Hall’s files, uncovers a mystery which has its roots in a tragedy that occurred at the Nonomura mansion over twenty years earlier.

The disturbing nature of the tragedy that they uncover goes some way to explaining why Genzo is so aggressive. When Keiko and Hiroshi split up in order to continue their search, the film successfully veers into ‘localised conspiracy theory’ territory for a spell before wrapping up with a quite original and surprising resolution.

The acting here is generally solid, and Yoko Minazake is really excellent as the devious and less than truthful Mrs Nonomura. Yukiko Kobayashi is effective as the ethereal-yet-threatening Yuko while Kayo Matsuo and Akira Nakao are well-cast as the generic investigative couple. Kaku Takashina looks the part as the burly man-servant Genzo.

Those of a certain age will appreciate the great Atsuo Nakamura’s appearance as Yuko’s boyfriend at the start of the show. His name may not be immediately familiar but it was Nakamura who played the beloved hero Lin Chun in the hugely popular television series The Water Margin.

Legacy of Dracula’s camera work is a little bit static in a couple of places when compared to that of Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula but Kazutami Hara’s cinematography remains quite pleasing overall. Indeed, Hara and Yamamoto manage to utilise some great camera placement and framing and they consistently offer up noticeably good picture compositions.

Riichiro Manabe’s music here is perhaps his most consistent work of the entire trilogy if only because he keeps things relatively simple and largely resists the urge to serve up any incongruous ‘loungey’ sounding pieces. Much of the film’s music is built around a quite spooky and effective harpsichord arrangement that Yamamoto uses to great effect.

There’s not really much more to be said about Legacy of Dracula. It’s an enjoyable little genre show that makes good use of a variety of gothic horror, mystery and thriller tropes. Anybody who rates Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula will undoubtedly find something of interest here.

Psychotronic Cinemas rating: Very Good –

© Copyright 2003, 2017 Lee Broughton.

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